BART Raised Fares and Then Bored You Into Not Noticing

Christmas may be over, but our friends at BART are gifting us with a fare hike on Friday. Just what you wanted, right?

Okay, it’s not quite a surprise; the increase was scheduled years ago, and details were announced in the spring. But unless you pay exacting attention to the opaquely labeled Title VI tab on the BART homepage, you might not have seen it coming.

It’s a relatively modest rise: 3.4 percent, rounded to the nearest nickel, 10 or 15 cents on most trips. Your longest possible trip, from SFO to Pittsburg/Bay Point, will go up 40 cents. In all, it’s an extra $50 to $75 for a year of round-trip commutes five days a week. Not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but just enough to annoy some workaday riders.

Still, let it not be said that BART didn’t try to keep us up to date. They even launched a new, surreal YouTube channel back in April, exclusively to host a single five-minute video explaining the fare hike in painful detail.

[jump] Nobody watched it, of course — there were a grand total of 32 views since April 9, two of them from me, just today. The Spanish and Chinese language versions of the same video netted 14 and 12 views respectively, a monthly average that compares unfavorably even to “Grandma Scared by Ferret.”

Whoever makes these BART videos could learn a thing or two about production values from Grandma and her ferret, too. BART’s video consists of a single, anonymous BART employee reading off of a script she’s clearly never seen before (possibly at gunpoint, judging from her tone), into a microphone only one step upgraded from a tin can on a string, accompanied by a PowerPoint so barren and stark that you might go snow blind if you look at it too long.

So, if you didn’t hear about this back in April, it’s probably because you were not among the 30 brave souls willing to risk eyesight and sanity to get the goods in advance.

Now that it’s almost time to pay up, here are the important bits:

First, this is just one in a series of fare hikes scheduled for every even-numbered year. In theory, the tide should stop rising in 2020, but since the program has been extended once already, it’s possible it will just keep going into infinity and it will cost $40 to get from Pittsburg to SFO in the year 2100. (Assuming we‘re not all riding the Hyperloop by then instead.)

Second, BART calculates the hikes at slightly less (0.5 percent) than the rate of inflation over those two years, making it technically a bargain. Although the fact that BART must cost more on account of everything else costing more isn’t exactly a PR winner, since most of us were already feeling the pinch of inflation .

BART estimates that it needs to raise $960 million a year over the next 10 years just to pay for needed improvements, including the new fleet of cars and updated control systems. The even-year rate hikes are projected to raise about $325 million by 2020, which is (annoyingly) both an objectively huge sum of money and also a pittance compared to how much is needed.

Framing things this way makes BART look like the hapless but stalwart working man of Bay Area regional government. They’ve got bills to pay, and the money only stretches so far, you know? In this analogy, riders play Charley to BART’s Willy Loman, chipping in a buck or two so a pal can make ends meet for a little longer.

Of course, many riders will complain that they’re paying enough as it is for increasingly spotty service. (Last January, a survey found that BART riders’ dissatisfaction with the agency had reached a 16-year low.) Maybe that lobotomized YouTube channel was a calculated plea: We can’t even afford graphics, how do you expect us to buy new escalators, etc?

So how about it, neighbor? Can you spare $325 million? For old time’s sake?

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