The impacts of the pandemic on public transit can not be overstated, and BART in particular is lowering its projections for ridership recovery below even where they had them a couple of months ago.
In the long-term, BART management is preparing for a range of scenarios in which ridership rebounds to various levels that are still well below where they were pre-pandemic. And we should first recall that BART wasn't in terrific shape, ridership- or safety-wise, before the pandemic even started, with a spiraling problem involving vandalism, the homeless, and scary behavior that was depressing ridership numbers especially on nights and weekends.
BART directors will be presented this week with ten-year projections that range from a recovery of 60% of pre-pandemic ridership projections — in 2032! — to a recovery of 80% by that same time, with 80% being the rosiest projection they can muster. The likeliest, "base case" scenario, is that they get to 70% of their pre-pandemic projection by 2032 — down 30% over the course of ten years.
As the Mercury News notes, this down an extra 10% since October, when similar projects were last made, prior to the Omicron wave, which has further hindered economic activity and slowed down ridership recovery again.
Could this all be unnecessarily pessimistic, and won't a lot of people need BART again, especially when they get tired of sitting in Bay Bridge/San Mateo Bridge traffic again? Perhaps.
But BART has to start planning for some big money asks — and taxpayers are likely to foot the bill if they keep avoiding the transit system in droves. There will likely be a combination of federal funds, state funds, and local tax hikes that help bridge the gap for BART in the coming years.
"Ultimately we’re gonna have hundreds of thousands of people depending on BART every day — it’s still going to be important to put out a robust service, even if it’s fewer [riders] than we thought," says BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman, speaking to the Mercury News.
Debora Allen, the BART director from Contra Costa County who already proved herself a more conservative voice in the pre-pandemic days — when people were raging about BART Police overstepping in handcuffing a Black guy for eating an egg sandwich and she would only defend the police — tells the Mercury News that she's pushing for more job cuts and spending cuts instead of more taxes.
"Up until this point, it has been taxpayers across the country filling this budget deficit," Allen says. "Now we’re going to be talking about local taxpayers in the Bay Area having to put up more money."
So, we know where she stands.
The coming year, and whatever happens as downtown SF once again — eventually — becomes a commuting destination for office workers and more people use the new extended BART line into San Jose, will tell the tale.
Photo: Charles Forerunner