BART will participate in the Clipper START program, which is set to offer a 20% fare discount to qualifying BART riders, according to a Wednesday press release.
The 18-month pilot program was developed in collaboration with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, or MTC, and will be applicable across a variety of Bay Area transit agencies, including BART, Caltrain, Muni and Golden Gate Transit, according to the press release.
BART spokesperson Jim Allison said the program intends to test the concept of an income-based discount for transit fares.
“For some people, BART’s distance-based fare system is a challenge that adds to the high cost of living in the Bay Area,” Allison said in an email.
MTC spokesperson John Goodwin said the program, which officially began Wednesday, was originally set t0 launch earlier this year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Goodwin, Clipper START was developed from 2018 to 2019 but was first conceptualized in 2015 through the MTC Regional Means-Based Transit Fare Pricing Study.
Goodwin said MTC derived most of its funding for the program from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed earlier this year, from which Bay Area transit operators received about $800 million for regional programs such as Clipper START.
The program is geared toward adults aged 19-64, Goodwin added, because their age group previously excluded them from reduced fare programs serving younger and older groups.
East Bay Transit Riders activist Darrell Owens said the group is in favor of the program, particularly as BART fares become “prohibitively expensive for low-income people,” according to Owens.
The cost of fares is becoming increasingly relevant for low-income communities due to ongoing gentrification, which particularly affects low-income Black and Brown people in the Bay Area, Owens added.
According to Owens, these communities have in turn been pushed into Bay Area suburbs, such as Antioch and Pittsburg, which are farther away from cities such as San Francisco where many service workers are employed.
Owens said the high transit fares caused by longer commutes become high weekly costs for low-income communities, which continue to depend on public transit amid the pandemic.
Citing BART data from March, when COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders first went into effect, Owens noted high drops in ridership from stations located in higher-income neighborhoods such as Lafayette and Orinda, while stations serving working-class neighborhoods such as Richmond and Fruitvale had smaller ridership drops.
“The only people who are really riding BART at this point are mostly service workers of lower and working class status,” Owens said.
Owens added that he hopes the program will send a message of support for those who continue to use public transit systems, including BART.
The program application can be found on the Clipper START website.