Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is facing a massive budget shortage and has only managed to recover 40% of its pre-pandemic ridership, one of the lowest numbers among transit agencies in the country. Now, transit officials have decided to focus on ”safety” — and that means more police officers on trains and raises for them.

BART police officers are set to receive substantial pay bumps of 20% as part of a new labor agreement, per the Chronicle. This agreement, approved by the agency's Board of Directors on Thursday, also includes a provision that mandates at least half of the transit police department's officers patrol trains.

BART Director Debora Allen emphasized that rider surveys say personal safety is a top priority for commuters on public transit. But as we previously reported, these surveys come from a business group with a history of somewhat dubious polls.

Already, the number of officers assigned to ride trains in downtown Oakland and San Francisco stations rose this spring, according to the Chronicle.

Presently, the BART Police Department assigns 52 officers to patrol trains, but the minimum presence requirement will result in a roughly 50% increase in the number of sworn officers riding trains once the police department reaches full staffing, as the Chronicle reported. There are still 28 openings on the force.

BART has faced difficulties in recruiting and retaining officers in recent years, partially due to salaries about 19% below the market average for 10 local comparable jurisdictions, according to the agency. The police union president, Shane Reiss, said that the raises would assist in retaining officers at BART and attracting lateral hires with prior police experience.

But the Chronicle reported that the police raises will cost BART $8.5 million in fiscal 2024, which combined with three-year 10.5% raises to non-police employees approved last summer, will make BART’s operating costs rise 17% by 2028.

We noted earlier this month that the California Legislature announced a revision to the state budget that includes $1.1 billion in state subsidies for transit agencies, saving, for now, BART and Muni from their impending "fiscal cliffs." It nixed $2 billion in proposed cuts to transit capital costs for regional systems, allowing the agencies to use some of the preserved funds for services.
It’s precarious: While the police raises will contribute to BART's operating deficits, several board directors expressed support for them, as they are expected to address riders' concerns about crime on the transit system. BART officials are hopeful that the increased police presence on trains, combined with schedule changes in the fall, will help boost stagnant ridership.

Image via BART website.