What did BART cost San Mateo CountyBy Guy Span
It would be nice if there were a simple answer to that question. SamTrans (San Mateo County Transit District) says in one place on their website that their capital investment for the Airport Extension was $171 million (this is an oft-repeated number). In their audited financial report however, the total is as follows: $100 million to buy into BART's existing service (San Mateo was not part of the three-county founders), $52.352 million for the Colma Extension, $181.530 million for the South of Colma portion and $72 million more for a forgiven loan (more about that later).
That totals $405.882 million for their portion of the extension. But was that all that came from or through San Mateo? The answer is no. Under the operating agreement with BART, SamTrans was responsible for the operating loss of the extension and could pocket the profits. Let's ignore the fact that that the last rail transit company in the country to earn a profit was the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, known as the Red Arrow Lines. That profit disappeared in the 1960s.
And while the SFO extension is now finding an astonishingly high 70% farebox recovery ratio, it still does not earn a profit. Up through 2007, SamTrans funded the annual operating loss, starting June 22, 2003 (when the system finally opened) and that loss has cost an additional $40.693 million. Since the extension was not supposed to cost anything, SamTrans was caught by surprise.
BART too was surprised when its hyper-inflated ridership numbers for 2010 were supposed to be 68,600 daily riders and it measured out in 2008 at 28,542. The worst performing station was the palace at Millbrae with its cavernous parking garage where BART hoped to pick riders from parallel CalTrain into the city. Given the huge disparity in pricing (Caltrain is cheaper) and speed (Caltrain is faster) no one should have been surprised at the lack of riders (33,000 projected and 8,248 actual).
BART scrambled to eliminate its 3-car "ghost" shuttle service between Millbrae and the Airport that captured an average of one rider per car. But the bill for all this nonsense was too high for SamTrans and tempers flared in public. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission stepped in and created a "Settlement Agreement and Release of Claims" between the MTC, SamTrans and BART on April 27, 2007. And yes it was a divorce agreement but the alimony would be high for the jilting spouse.
This is the first part on the Airport Extension and part of a series detailing how and why we and the MTC fund grand transit projects.
Copyright ©2009 San Francisco Examiner. Published 11/04/2009.