SamTrans Boards the More-For-Less Express

San Mateo County transit service the latest to raise fares after cutting routes

Two bucks will get you a bottle of wine at Trader Joe's. It also gets you a ride on most Bay Area transit systems.

Starting today, that will include San Mateo County's SamTrans, which is raising fares from $1.75 to $2, matching fares on San Francisco's Muni and the East Bay's AC Transit and the VTA in the South Bay. A year ago, SamTrans's bus fare was just $1.50.

Express-bus fares are also jumping to $5. But after a series of cuts, SamTrans only has a single express route, the KX from Palo Alto to San Francisco via SFO.

That's because SamTrans has redesigned its route network to feed BART stations.

But BART is arguably part of SamTrans's problem.

BART's extention to SFO in San Mateo County was supposed to pay for itself. But ridership came in vastly below the inflated projections used to justify the project, and San Mateo found itself paying $40 million a year to subsidize the extension's losses. A 2007 deal had BART take over the extension's losses -- but at the cost of a considerable chunk of San Mateo's sales-tax funding for transit.

Bay Area transit agencies spend almost twice as much per passenger-mile compared to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. Consolidating agencies would help -- as would focusing more on cheap, efficient local bus service rather than $200 million-per-mile BART lines.

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