The Bay Area is not alone in having a mass transit system built in the mid-1970's that is showing some major signs of age this past year that are in part the result of inadequate maintenance. The Washington DC Metro, opened in 1976 just four years after BART and featuring rail cars built by the same company, Rohr Industries, has been having even worse service problems than BART, as the New York Times and others have been reporting, and the system is facing a $100 million budget shortfall as it prepares to deal with the same sort of infrastructure and track deterioration that BART has after 40 years.
Not that we should be having schadenfreude about this BART's problems are not limited to the current, still unsolved trouble between Pittsburg and North Concord, and are likely to turn worse over the coming year or two but living in DC and being a Metro rider has been somewhat more hellish recently, and that's reflected in a 6 percent decline in weekday ridership in 2015.
You may have heard about the systemwide shutdown that occurred two weeks ago, on March 16, when the entire track system had to undergo emergency inspections after a track-based cable caught fire. The fire seemed similar to one that hobbled the system a year earlier, in January 2015, filling a tunnel and some trains with smoke and fumes and killing one passenger.
Then there are the derailments, of which Metro has seen dozens in the last decade, including the multi-car derailment of an unoccupied train last August that effectively shut down three of the system's six lines.
While the DC Metro boasts some more architecturally awesome, futuristic stations, the money they had to spend on those back in the '70's doesn't seem to exist today and Times points out that Metro's funding comes from multiple states and jurisdictions, which has left it an "institutional orphan" without a single governing body. Also, it doesn't get any money for its $1.8 billion annual operating budget from the federal government, despite its daily use by federal workers getting to and from Pentagon, etc.
Meanwhile, BART's second largest source of revenue besides passenger fares which have been steadily going up as ridership has increased in the last several years is a share of a half-cent sales tax levied in three of the system's counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco. That accounts for almost $250 million in BART's 2017 budget, which is also about $1.8 billion.
Still, BART is projecting an unfunded capital need of $480 million, which they're hoping gets covered by a $3.5 billion infrastructure bond that we will all be voting on in November.
And just as a disturbing visual, see some examples of deteriorating, rusted rail spikes pulled from the BART system in the last year, as shown by BART's District 3 director Rebecca Saltzman. The new spike is shown in the middle, and they should all be that size.