TransportiCA Note: Although we are not residents of the Bay Area, we very much depend on this system for travel regularly, and it is a great example of sustainable transportation. Given the excess capacities being felt by the system, the unique design and technical requirements of the BART fleet, and this nation's embarrassing state of infrastructure, we would wholeheartedly support the mentioned bond; this is not just an expense for current maintenance, but a wise investment for the system's future, and our environmental, social and mobility needs. In all honesty, can you realistically imagine the Bay Area without BART? Let's keep that nightmare potential at bay.
East Bay Times guest commentary
The BART board of directors is considering a $3.5 billion bond measure this November for voter approval to provide major maintenance and modernization of the system. A few local politicians and opinion page contributors have posed questions about BART's ability to manage such money -- past or future.
I am often asked why BART doesn't itself have the funds to bring our 44-year-old system up to a good state of repair. You might not know that over the last decade the BART board has set aside more than $1.3 billion from its operating funds to pay for capital costs and debt service.
In the mid-1990s, BART leveraged nearly $600 million of its own funds to successfully complete a $1.6 billion reinvestment program -- including renovating 450 rail cars, station improvements, and installing new fare equipment systemwide.
In addition, BART built extensions in the 1990s and 2000s to fulfill commitments to serve additional communities in our district and provide important linkages to regional facilities such as the San Francisco International Airport.
BART leveraged its funds to bring $3.3 billion in federal, state, and local dollars to the Bay Area to build these extensions to North Concord, Pittsburg/Bay Point, Castro Valley, Dublin/Pleasanton, and down the Peninsula to the San Francisco International Airport. The region has benefited greatly from these investments in expanded BART service.
But now, BART needs a major investment in its core system if we are to continue delivering efficient transportation into the future -- larger than any amount we can reasonably expect to self-fund from operating revenues.
BART has an annual operating budget of nearly $900 million, which is funded mainly through passenger fares and sales taxes, but also by advertising, parking fees, and other revenues.
BART's operating funds provide the Bay Area with critical rail service that carries over 440,000 passenger trips every weekday. Even as we have endured years of diminishing investment by the state and federal government, we have managed to set aside money annually to invest in system hardware like new seats and flooring, new track, and station upgrades.
Over the next decade, BART plans to dedicate an additional $1.8 billion in operating revenues to pay for capital costs. In next year's budget alone, BART will invest more than $140 million to help fund new rail cars, an expanded facility to maintain the cars, a modernized train control system -- and other critical investment needs, such as elevators and escalators. This level of infusion of operating dollars to capital is unheard of in the industry.
But our investment is not enough. Set-asides from operating funds are not intended to pay for one-time major capital expenses such as replacing train cars, rails, trackside computer equipment, and rebuilding tunnels and other infrastructure needs.
The agency still faces a $4.8 billion shortfall for capital projects over the next 10 years, along with the projection that we will carry 100,000 new daily passenger trips. That's why the BART board is considering asking taxpayers to approve a $3.5 billion bond to help pay for BART's infrastructure needs.
Responsible stewardship under challenging circumstances merits your attention. BART's situation is similar to what many capital intensive special purpose districts, such as school and utility districts, face. Many must replace aging and failing facilities and systems in a funding environment in which traditional funding sources have diminished.
One of the few remaining cost-effective tools to fund these capital needs is a voter approved bond. In BART's case, we may be asking the voters to fund a portion of these capital needs using the very same mechanism that was successfully used more than 50 years ago to build the system.
The Bay Area economy is booming. It has outpaced both California and the U.S. in job recovery and expanding output. The region's development plan puts 38 percent of all new job growth and 34 percent of our population growth at or near a BART station. We must prepare.
Everyone has a stake in the success of BART, whether or not you ride. I urge you to visit www.BART.gov and click on "It's Time to Rebuild," which describes and links to our System Renewal Plan.
This plan is a program of investment that has been developed in partnership with more than 200 community groups. Your feedback is welcome. The community commitment to create BART in the 1960s has proved to be a bold and wise decision.
Let's keep moving forward.