When does a rider who doesn't pay their fare cost the cash-strapped transit agency known as BART any money? When that rider is related to an employee, if comments made by their spokesperson to a local newspaper are to be believed.
It was just a few months ago that BART admitted that fare evasion (that is, riders who board trains without paying a fare) cost the transit agency around $25 million a year in lost revenue. As a result, the BART announced a crackdown on those who ducked the fare gates, with BART spokesperson Jim Allison telling CBS 5 that “Fare evasion will not be tolerated."
“You can go to any BART station basically, and see people from all walks of life who feel that fare evasion is acceptable," Allison said. "We make it a little too easy in some cases. The message is, we’re going to make it harder.”
Strong words, and a statement to be admired by those of us who always pay our fares and are frustrated by those who do not. But when the topic turns from fare evaders to folks who are allowed by BART not to pay fares, the agency instead claims those free riders don't cost the agency a cent.
Here's the deal: As you might recall from a Chron report last month, "on any given day, up to 13,000 BART workers, retirees, board directors and all their family members can ride the cash-strapped system for free." In addition, the agency awards 4013 passes to off-duty Bay Area law enforcement officers.
“We are proud of our system and proud to take our families on the trains,” Allison told the Chron at the time. “This has been a long-standing policy of BART, and we don’t see any reason to change that at this point.”
Allison isn't wrong about the duration of the perk, as it's been a thing since BART ran its first run in 1972. In addition, the Chron reports today, "BART board President Rebecca Saltzman said the free passes for workers and their families was 'something negotiated in (union employees’) contracts among a whole lot of other stuff.'"
All told, that means that at present, there are 3,624 current BART employees, 2,526 BART retirees, and 6,940 spouses, domestic partners and other dependents blessed with the "smart card" that allows them to ride for free. If they all used their perks at once, and given that "the average round-trip BART ticket costs $7.60, the potential for new revenue comes to $130,000 a day," the Chron reports.
But they don't, it appears, as instead the"17,266 pass holders took 895,187 free rides on the system last year — or an average of 26 round trips annually per person."
Records show that BART’s 3,615 active employees took the greatest advantage of the free rides, averaging 52 round trips apiece last year. Retired employees took an average of eight free round trips.
The 6,940 dependents of active and retired employees averaged 17 round trips apiece.
The nearly 4,000 Bay Area law enforcement officers averaged about 26 round trips each.
That all adds up to a cost of $3.5 million last year, but according to BART it doesn't, not really, as the Chron reports that "BART spokesman Jim Allison said the free passes don’t cost the system anything, because the cost of running trains would be the same with or without the free rides."
Of course, there's a distinction between taking something and being given something, we all know that — but I think we also know that even gifts cost money. Sure, BART's still going to be running trains with or without riders with free passes, but it's also going to be running those trains with or without fare evaders. BART might want to consider a better argument for why they want to keep extending this $3.5 million perk to friends and family, or they'll end up with a lot of fare evaders quoting their words right back to them, perhaps in court.