At first glance, the phrase “BART Board of Directors releases new budget” might make one’s eyes glaze over with boredom.
But dive into the list of what’s getting funded — and what isn’t — and it’s not long before the inner workings of the Bay Area’s largest and most complicated transportation system become clear. Regular riders are plagued by an aging system, electrical mishaps, broken trains, and jammed doors that lengthen commutes. Service is unreliable, and, possibly as a result of BART’s failures, ridership is in decline. But a team of hardworking experts is studying the problem, and thanks to this brand-spanking-new fiscal year 2018 budget of $1.92 billion, we now get a peek into what’s being done to help.
The massive budget is divided into several categories: system reinvestment, service and capacity enhancement, and fare evasion. Of these, $671 million has been allocated to “system reinvestment.” Within that figure, a whopping $285 million is dedicated to the acquisition of 775 new cars for the optimistically named “Fleet of the Future,” which — if all goes according to plan — could be hitting the tracks as early as this year. An additional $71 million funds the creation of the Hayward Maintenance Complex, a new facility to keep 250 cars of said fleet running. While the cost may seem enormous, it’s even higher than what is budgeted, as this valuable piece of BART’s infrastructure will total $432 million by the time it’s completed.
Station improvements fall under service and capacity enhancement, and contain projects such as the repair of the endlessly broken escalators and out-of-service elevators, with a budget of $67 million. Canopies will be built above station entrances along Market Street, to protect escalators and riders during inclement weather.
And several stations — including Powell, 19th Street, Downtown Berkeley, El Cerrito del Norte, and Concord, will be reviewed for additional station upgrades.
In addition to the repair of stations and the purchase of new cars, $100 million has been set aside for an earthquake safety program, $74 million of which will go solely toward finishing the Transbay Tube seismic retrofit. Much of the work on that project has already been completed, but this last bit will consist of adding extra layers to the tube to eliminate flood risk in the case that a massive earthquake hits the Bay Area — an upgrade we can all get behind. This project is set to begin sometime in 2018.
Infrastructure aside, the BART team is also looking for solutions to fare evasion, and has dedicated $2.7 million to the cause. The multi-pronged strategy includes increased BART officer enforcement, and raising barriers and service gates to be 60 inches tall, presumably so they’re harder to jump over. In April, Paul Oversier, BART’s assistant general manager for operations, estimated that fare evasions cost the transit agency between $15 million and $25 million each year.
But budget wasn’t the only topic discussed. The board passed a resolution declaring its commitment to being a sanctuary for all passengers, regardless of demographic or immigration status. This may seem like old news — discussions on such a plan began after the possibility of Pres. Trump’s Muslim ban emerged — but the agency’s governing board made the policy official this month. The “Safe Transit” plan forbids BART employees from questioning riders or each other about their immigration status. The plan also bans the use of BART funds and resources for the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Board member Lateefah Simon spoke in favor of the policy at a recent meeting. “It’s important as we move forward, and I don’t care who is president, to make sure the culture of this agency is that everyone who pays their ticket and gets on the train understands our responsibility is to get them there safely,” she said.
All told, the $1.92 billion budget and the new Safe Transit Plan aim to get everyone to where they’re going as safely and efficiently as possible — that is, once all the construction dust from the above-mentioned projects clears.