BART Fare Increase Approved By Officials
Shootings. Stabbings. Derailments. Operating system and equipment failures. “Unscheduled” track maintenance. Civilians walking in the tunnels. These are only some of the problems plaguing our Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Ridership is 30-to-40% of its weekday pre-pandemic levels, and the aging agency sees about half its previous weekend riders. Despite all this, a BART fare increase of 3.4% will take effect on Friday, July 1st.
“What?” said one UC Berkeley student I spoke with. He commutes to the East Bay daily each semester, and was unaware of the upcoming fare increase. “Jesus. It’s already so expensive.”
Travelling from San Francisco’s Mission District (16th St. Station) to Downtown Berkeley costs $4.45. It has since at least January 2022, when BART officials postponed another scheduled fare increase. Twice daily five days a week adds up to nearly $180 a month on BART. After July 1st, some commuters will pay for an added day of commuting per month but not use it.
In the meantime, BART continues to let riders down. Passengers lately have reported being stranded for up to an hour as trains are cancelled and not rescheduled. Stations languish behind plywood walls, the guts of escalators exposed and fenced off. An Antioch-bound train I waited for last Sunday was cancelled. The one after that arrived in thirty-two minutes. They called off my train back to San Francisco, too. For the next one, I’d have waited at Pleasant Hill BART for over an hour. A friend with a FasTrak drove me back to the city instead. I spent four times the amount of my fare comping his gas at $6 a gallon.
KTVU recently surveyed a handful of BART riders. Some feel the scheduled increase is undeserved. “I feel like if they maybe lowered their prices, or made it safer, it wouldn’t be such an issue to take public transportation,” said Zia Davis, a new rider.
Transit officials bet that surging gas prices would drive people back to BART. Their hopes meanwhile have not materialized. Like many people working from home now, Alyssa Lahti once commuted to her downtown San Francisco office from the East Bay. She’s indifferent to BART nowadays. It’s a cheaper if somewhat sketchy alternative to bridge toll, parking fees, and the waste of pricey gas.
“The cleanliness, or lack thereof, is atrocious though,” she said, “even on the ‘newer’ cars. When I was a regular rider, the delays were frequent. Guaranteed, if the station had an elevator, it would be out of service.” BART should be cleaner, more reliable, and more accessible to those who rely on it. Lahti believes the upcoming fare hike will be warranted—if the funds truly go towards improvements.
BART knows fare increases incur resentment because a sense of injustice inevitably sprouts from having to personally finance BART’s betterment. Driving those resentments, BART has publically received infusions of government cash, the most recent amounting to 270 million dollars. Where are the paid-for improvements, like the long-awaited fleet of new vehicles for instance?
January’s cautionary delay of fare-increase is far from BART’s first. An SFGate article chronicled 2010’s fare-increase postponement, approved by board voters in light of the Bay Area’s cost-of-living statistics that year. Although it seemed like a win to many, the deferment did not excite everyone. The article ends on a prescient statement by Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District Board member Dan Snyder.
“If this [postponement] goes forward,” he said, “it is a bad day for San Francisco BART riders. It will mean service that’s dirtier and less reliable.”
Did that also mean less safe? Twelve years later on June 21st, 2022, an Antioch-bound train derailed between Concord and Pleasant Hill Stations. Two cars jumped the tracks, thought to have warped in the day’s extreme heat, “near Hastings Drive and David Avenue in Concord” according to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. Rumors of a fire onboard were quickly extinguished.
The accident resulted in minor injuries. One victim sought treatment for back pain at a nearby hospital.
Does BART merit a fare increase this July? That’s a tough call, and it could very well be the wrong question to ask. Transparency holds viewers the longest. Perhaps we should ask, how will they spend the money? After endless cancellations, squalid conditions onboard, constant delays, and the events of June 21st, riders deserve to know.