Despite all the news about the BART system being strained at the seams by population growth and a crush of riders at peak commute hours, overall BART ridership has actually been declining since 2015, and continued to decline in the first half of BART's fiscal year, which began in July. BART's board recently met and began mulling service cuts, fare hikes, and other measures to address a looming fiscal deficit this year that could top $10 million, as the East Bay Times is reporting.
Some BART staff, like assistant general manager of operations Paul Oversier, have previously suggested that BART ridership has gone down because people are sick of overcrowded trains, and trains that pass them by in busy stations because they're too full not to mention major delays and system outages that occurred because of that still mysterious voltage problem they were having last spring.
But the most notable decline in ridership is not on weekdays, but on weekends, which saw a 9 percent drop in riders between July and December. There was a still noticeable and ongoing drop in weekday riders, with January ridership down just over 4 percent over the previous January. This has led to a $5 million fiscal deficit for the fiscal year so far, and a projected revenue shortfall of $15 to $25 million by fiscal year-end.
To address this, BART directors have instructed departments to cut consultant spending by 10 percent, and there's a hiring freeze in place. They've also floated service changes like starting trains at 5 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. on weekdays. Also, the base fare may have to increase to address the shortfall.
ABC 7, naturally, found one commuter to complain about the fact that early morning trains are always packed, so if anything, they should be running trains earlier not later.
A recent survey of BART riders indicated that overall customer satisfaction has hit a new low, and it has everything to do with service delays.
BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman, however, indicated to the East Bay Times that there would not likely be any service cuts, since those would lead to a "horrible spiral" and still less revenue. But, she says, "Clearly, we will have to make some hard decisions this year."
BART is hoping that those new but surprisingly overweight new Fleet of the Future trains coming online, with fewer seats and increased capacity, will ease congestion and hopefully boost ridership next year. Or whenever they finally come online.