The financial outlook for BART is so grim the transit agency may turn to the taxpayers for help.
BART's fiscal report, presented to board members Thursday, estimates that the transit system will get back to only about 70% of pre-pandemic ridership levels over the next 10 years.
"We will not get to 50% of pre-pandemic levels until not this summer, but next summer," BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said.
Financially, the next two years are covered through cost-cutting measures and emergency federal assistance. But the report indicates an estimated $1.2 billion cumulative deficit between 2024 and 2032.
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During the height of the pandemic, the feds handed BART $1.3 billion to keep the trains running. BART said it has spent half of that and the rest will likely run out in the next two years.
"We want to make sure that Bay Area residents understand our fiscal crisis that we’re facing once the federal emergency funds run out," Trost said.
To close the gap, BART is exploring new funding from the federal and state governments. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering a nine-county tax measure for 2024, and if that doesn't come to fruition, BART could propose a tax measure in its three-county district.
"You’re not going to see a ballot measure any time soon, but you’re going to start hearing those discussions: what is the Bay Area willing to pay when it comes to public transit?" Trost said.
BART board President Rebecca Saltzman said staff is taking a conservative approach in the 10-year fiscal outlook, and it remains to be seen how riders will respond post-pandemic.
"There’s a lot of uncertainty, and so there’s a lot of room to exceed our projections and do much better so that we don’t need a lot of additional funding or funding we find at the state or federal level to make up for it," Saltzman said. "So, at this point, I think we have no idea if we are going to need a BART measure, but we at least need to start looking at it to be ready to do it if we do need it in several years."
Meanwhile, BART just announced improvements to its Sunday service: Starting Feb. 20, Sunday service will be extended until midnight, and for the first time in the transit system's history, there will be five-line service until 9 p.m. as well as four trains an hour at the San Francisco International Airport station until 9 p.m.