‘The Fiscal Cliff Is Real': Bay Area Transit Agencies Ask for State Help

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Leaders from transportation systems throughout the Bay Area came together Friday to ask the state for help before they fall off a fiscal cliff.

The lasting impacts from the pandemic continue to put a strain on the budgets of transit agencies.

"While our trains, our buses, our ferries are attracting more and more people, it's gradual and it's not happening fast enough," Metropolitan Commission Executive Director Andrew Fremier said.

During Friday's press conference, leaders from multiple agencies, including BART, Tri Delta Transit and others, collectively called on state lawmakers to factor a bigger piece of the budget for Bay Area transportation, while not giving a price tag.

"We know the state is facing fiscal challenges," Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wonderland said. "I guess everyone is, but we have to prioritize transportation."

In BART's case, federal relief funding runs out in 2025. The agency said without help from the state, the system will quickly rack up a deficit of more than $310 million per year, a deficit that could require deep service cuts just to keep the trains on track.

"The fiscal cliff is real and we are in discussions right now with the state of California and Sacramento on providing operation money to keep transit moving," BART CEO Bob Powers said.

In October 2019, BART averaged 10.5 million rides. More than three years later, as pandemic restrictions have nearly vanished, the system can't attract half that number of riders.

Powers is focusing on increasing ridership by putting a greater emphasis on safety and adjusting service plans to target night and weekend riders. Some have suggested fare hikes, but he said that's likely not the answer to the problem.

"I don’t think the solution runs through fare increases," he said. "It doesn’t. The order of magnitude of the fiscal cliff is such that a fare increase isn't going to get us there."

Service leaders fear a transportation time bomb is too close to blowing up.

"The future is really stark if we're not able to generate more money," Wonderland said.

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