The possibility of “No weekend BART, bus lines cancelled” looms for BART, Muni, Caltrain and the ferries, according to a new report detailing these transit agencies’ plans for dealing with the “death spiral” of a looming fiscal cliff.
Hey, did you go celebrate the opening of that $2 billion Central Subway this weekend? Have you ridden one of those ballyhooed BART “fleet of the future” cars lately? Do you dream at night of riding through a second Transbay Tube?
A bucket of ice-cold water on all of that. Even though transit agencies have been dreaming big (and spending big) on jazzy connections to the Salesforce Transit Center, more Central Subway connections, BART to San Jose, and the long-elusive high-speed rail, the reality is that their money is running out. Transit agencies were propped up with all kinds of state and federal pandemic funding, which will run out, in what each agency calls a “fiscal cliff.” And those ridership numbers are not returning in ways that transit planners had hoped, thanks to remote work and new rounds of layoffs.
And now Bay Area News Group reports that transit agencies are planning for a “doomsday scenario,” and the draconian service cuts that would come with that. BART, Muni, Caltrain, AC Transit, and the ferries all face looming operating deficits, and are mulling severe service cuts to deal with these deficits.
Per the News Group, BART has proposed “Terminating two of five train lines – Red and Green – meaning no more direct trains from Richmond and Berryessa to San Francisco.” For Muni, it could be that the “entire network returns to pandemic-era levels with frequency reductions starting on bus lines 2, 6 and 21.” The ferries could see Major midday and weekend services slashed,” and Caltrain is reportedly “Slashing service amid a $50 million deficit.”
These are all theoreticals, described by the Bay Area News Group as “war games” the transit agencies are using to plan for possible fiscal cliffs. Moreover, they are from a Freedom of Information request document that is dated March 2022, eight months ago. And these cuts could be averted with a voter-approved tax increase, but that may be a hard sell in this seemingly worsening economy.
“You add up all these problems, and for them to step forward and say ‘there is a doomsday scenario, give us your taxes’ – it’s a hard pill to swallow,” state Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) told the Bay Area News Group. “Now they want to basically ignore the meal and have taxpayers pay the check.”
If the fiscal cliff is as real as it sounds, then the obvious answer seems to stop building these wildly ambitious new projects, and focus on maintaining current service levels. But will transit official heed the obvious answer? That depends, and the relative doominess of the doomsday scenarios also frankly depends on whether ridership rebounds to pre-pandemic levels. But it also depends on whether transit agencies are realistic with their finances, or if they play chicken chasing ambitious new expansions.
Image: Pi.1415926535 via Wikimedia Commons