For BART, No Representation Without Taxation

San Mateo County’s decades-long reluctance to fully join BART has San Francisco residents closest to Daly City Station paying double.

San Francisco residents using Daly City BART Station are caught between a sales tax, a San Mateo County surcharge, and the inability to utilize the monthly transit pass. (Wonderlane/Flickr)

Looking at a map of BART Board districts, a stretch of stations curiously falls outside the nine-piece puzzle set.

Of 48 BART stations, six don’t have a director to represent them on the board as they discuss issues from fare evasion to the system’s critically aging infrastructure. That’s because San Mateo County falls outside the special district California created in 1957 to manage BART.

San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties are the original trio that all pay a half-cent sales tax, something San Mateo County declined to adopt after voters approved the first Peninsula BART extension in 1985. To keep operating costs in check for stations in the county, riders boarding from Daly City Station are subject to a $1.15 fare surcharge to get to San Francisco. (There is a $1.44 surcharge to ride BART within San Mateo County, which sends two percent of its 2012 voter-approved half-cent sales tax to BART.)

But that means some residents in San Francisco, particularly those in the southwest corner, are paying double when they cross county lines to the bordering station. To make matters more aggravating, riders who pay $94 a month for a Muni and BART pass can’t use it at Daly City Station, where three Muni bus lines offer service.

“That’s sort of the unfairness of it and the awkwardness of it for those [San Francisco] residents,” says Tom Radulovich, former BART Director for District 9 in San Francisco. “They probably have the worst part of the deal.”

Federal census data is used to divide BART into District 1, blue, District 2, brown, District 3, green, District 4, red, District 5, pink, District 6, black, District 7, yellow, District 8, purple, and District 9, orange.

Legally speaking, legislators would set the required buy-in for a county like San Mateo to join, but BART spokesperson James Allison called this process “abstract” since it hasn’t been done before. Adding to the complication is that the nine existing districts drawn by population would likely shift, and some BART directors could lose their seats upon re-election by different constituents.

District maps aside, Radulovich says the biggest way to solve this quagmire is for San Mateo County to join the BART district with a fully funded sales tax, a politically infeasible endeavor. After all, it’s considered regressive to enact a tax that applies to everyone but ends up disproportionately affecting low-income earners — especially in a region with such a high cost of living.

Santa Clara County’s Silicon Valley extension, which has already reached Warm Springs Station in Fremont and which will connect to San Jose’s Diridon Station by 2026, could provide motivation for a compromise. Once in place, a connected rail system of BART and Caltrain will circle the San Francisco Bay, something that could make a sales tax more reasonable if some of it goes to Caltrain.

One of BART’s main challenges is capital and maintenance costs for its aging infrastructure — infrastructure that’s relatively new for extensions in San Mateo County but will need to be addressed. Or, residents in San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties will subsize station upgrades in counties untouched by a similar tax.

Until a deal on taxes is reached and approved by voters, funding to offset the negative side effects of Daly City Station boundaries for San Franciscans has to come from somewhere. And without a representative on the BART board, Radulovich says potential solutions have failed to gain traction.

Enter the incoming representative for the southernmost BART Board district, Janice Li. She reached out to Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo, who said that was a first from District 8 elected officials and San Mateo County’s de facto BART representative.

“I hope that with new leadership, especially with Janice Li being on the BART board, there is openness. There is a way to hear the concerns of Daly City ridership,” Manalo says. “I would see it as an asset to have input from all these other areas, especially since it’s all connected.”

Li supports finding a way to include Daly City BART on the monthly transit pass for Muni and BART. But with so many equity-oriented proposals on the table — plus talk of adding a second Transbay Tube to the tune of $10 to $12 billion — the only way to turn it into a reality is to find creative funding solutions.

“Dreams are dreams. They’re made real with funding,” Li says. “I know I have to get those conversations started.”

She looks to models such as ride-share taxes, Chicago-style convention fees, and even San Francisco State University received $350,000 from the Transportation Fund for Clean Air in 2016 to implement the Gator Pass, which offers a 25-percent discount to students riding BART to and from Daly City. On the other hand, Li is concerned with Mayor London Breed’s hesitation, at least during her transition period, to fund transportation through taxes.

Even charging for parking to offset the costs of including Daly City Station becomes more complicated by California AB 2923. BART now has the authority to set zoning requirements and create housing where its parking lots stand. With conversations like those coming up with a relatively fresh board, the bordering station could finally be included in the grand scheme of things.

“I’m actually really, really excited to be on this board,” Li says. “If you look at BART today and you’re OK with the status quo, you’re in the extreme minority.”

 

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