High-powered politicians are coming out in support of funding a $3.5 billion bond to fix the 44-year-old BART system, as a California state senator and a local newspaper are strongly urging voters to nix Measure RR.
California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and other Bay Area leaders held a news conference Monday at the 12th Street Station in Oakland for a pre-election rally to support Measure RR.
"I am passionate about Measure RR," Schaaf told the crowd.
BART wants the money to fix a system that in the recent past has shut down several times for electrical surge issues that and simply upgrade a system first built in the 1970s. And the public transit system is only getting taxed with more riders. For example, BART originally carried 100,000 people a week, and now serves roughly 440,000 riders every week day. And ridership is expected to increase 75 percent by 2040. "The 44-year-old system is showing its age," BART said in its campaign materials.
Voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties need to vote on the bond, which would cost about $9 on every $100,000 of assessed property value.
In a statement, the politicians in support of the measure wrote: "BART is not perfect. But we cannot allow a few critics to put our daily commutes in jeopardy to score political points."
Those critics include the East Bay Times editorial board, which called for voters to “reject BART’s Measure RR high-pressure sales pitch.”
The newspaper editorial says that BART never mentions that the ballot would raise property taxes and that there are no guarantees that if voters approve it BART will spend the money in capital needs.
California State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) has also been one of the loudest critics of BART and its desire to push for a bond. He said the BART board doesn't know how to manage its money well. In his latest news release, he said that BART is in a financial crisis, but gave out $1,000 bonuses to its 3,350 employees.
In February, he and 31 other East Bay elected officials sent a letter to the BART board saying they all had "serious concerns" about the bond.
He told NBC Bay Area on Monday that BART has been "financially irresponsible for the last two decades," and he called the measure a "half-baked plan for the highest paid transit workforce in America."
What the critics didn't mention is an analysis by the AllThingsTransit blog authored by the state's deputy director of business analytics, Boris Lipkin, who compiled National Transit Database numbers for 2014.
He found that BART ranked No. 1 in the country for financial efficiency among large public transit systems in terms of "fare recovery." BART recovered fares 78 percent of the time two years ago, the analysis found, compared to the national average of 41 percent.
NBC Bay Area's Pete Suratos contributed to this report.