After two years of talk of fiscal cliffs and the threat of service cuts, BART and the SFMTA have been thrown a lifeline in the form of state and regional transit subsidies — and the two agencies will be taking the lion's share of the money allocated to the Bay Area.
You may recall that in the new state budget, which Governor Gavin Newsom agreed to back in June and later signed off on, there is $1.1 billion in new funding on transit. $776 million of that will be distributed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to Bay Area agencies over the next three years, the vast majority of it — $661 million — going to BART and the SFMTA.
As the Chronicle reported over the weekend, BART is expected to get $352 million, and the SFMTA is expected to get about $309 million through 2026 — 45% and 40% of the total subsidies, respectively.
There is a catch, however. The MTC board will be voting in December on accountability measures for BART and the SFMTA, the biggest of which will have to do with cracking down on fare evasion. BART's money will be tied to the agency fulfilling its promise to replace over 700 of its fare gates with more evasion-proof models by 2025. And Muni will have to report back on how it's trying to prevent fare evasion as well — after a report earlier this year that fare evasion was rampant on Muni buses and trains.
State Senator Scott Wiener, at the time that the budget was passed this summer, said that the $1.1 billion transit bailout was insufficient. Wiener then proposed a temporary bridge toll increase in order to further subsidize public transit, but that bill was subsequently shelved.
BART will once again face a fiscal cliff in 2026 unless ridership recovers significantly by then. The agency, which had been famously flush among other cities' transit agencies in decades past, had been relying on 70% of its revenue from fares. While it has returned to pre-pandemic service levels, BART says that only 45% of its ridership has returned so far.
Both BART and the SFMTA will be held to account as well by the MTC for streamlining fare-paying and other services with the region's other transit agencies. And with an eye on budgets, BART's board is studying the possibility of potentially merging with another agency, like Caltrain, in the future.
Photo: Josh Wilburne