BART officials took another step Thursday toward approving a balanced budget for fiscal year 2022, as the transit agency’s budget officials presented a revised proposal that includes an $8 million increase in passenger revenue.
The $1.02 billion budget includes an estimated $166 million in fare gate revenue as ridership begins an arduous climb back up toward pre-pandemic levels as well as $385 million in emergency federal funding from the three pandemic relief bills adopted over the last 14 months.
As in the agency’s preliminary budget plan that was unveiled in March, BART plans to increase its service hours in late summer, cutting the time between trains from 30 minutes to 15, resuming service between 9 p.m. and midnight on weekdays and Saturdays and expanding Saturday service from three routes to all five of the agency’s service lines.
The start date for the increased service was pushed up roughly two weeks from Sept. 13 in the preliminary budget to Aug. 30 in the current version, BART budget officials said, to account for the anticipated full return of students to in-person classes during the fall semester.
The tentative plan would be to keep the new operating hours through February 2022, according to agency officials, with the potential for another expansion of service in February if demand warrants it.
“We’re not locked in on anything for February,” BART Assistant General Manager of Operations Tamar Allen said to the agency’s Board of Directors Thursday morning.
“We really are going to monitor how things progress through September and then make some decisions about what the appropriate level of service would be,” Allen said.
The tentative fiscal year 2022 budget, which the board is expected to formally vote on next month, represents an increase in revenue and spending of $172 million over BART’s fiscal year 2021 budget.
The coronavirus pandemic decimated the agency’s financial strength, holding ridership around 10 percent of pre-pandemic levels and forcing BART to utilize some $307 million in federal relief funding to remain solvent during the 2021 fiscal year.
The lost revenue that wasn’t covered by relief funding was shored up in multiple ways, including a voluntary, incentivized early retirement program and postponed increases in labor spending and capital allocations, including a one-year hiring freeze.
However, the pandemic never forced BART to lay off or furlough employees over the past year.
In addition to the service increases, BART officials are planning several incentives and promotions in an effort to get Bay Area residents to return to the system, including making all fares paid for with a Clipper card 50 percent off in September.
Board Director Rebecca Saltzman said the tentative fiscal year 2022 budget was the most exciting news the agency has gotten in more than a year.
“We’ve gotten a lot of depressing presentations, which is understandable given the times we’re in, and this is really the first one that’s made me feel extremely hopeful that we’re going to get back,” Saltzman said.
Members of the board also praised the agency’s budget and executive staffs for repeatedly contorting BART’s financial planning as the pandemic has worn on and ensuring that the agency will remain available to the Bay Area post-pandemic.
“There have been a lot of twists and turns over the past year and I think that our leadership team has done a great job of making thoughtful decisions,” Board Director Bevan Dufty said. “Some of them have been tough decisions and some of them have created hardships, but I think that in the months to come we really have an opportunity to welcome back our riders and to restore what BART is which is the lifeblood of the Bay Area.”