As BART ridership stays low and federal funding for transit agencies is expected to run out, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission had Bay Area transit agencies plan for three possible funding scenarios.
According to BART spokesperson James Allison, this included a worst-case scenario, which involved closing nine stations and running trains only on weekdays. According to Allison, however, this scenario is theoretical and impractical for BART to continue functioning.
“The bottom line for BART is we don’t feel we could cut our service to the point of meeting the worst scenario and survive,” Allison said. “We would just not be able to serve the number of people who want to take us and set us onto a path where we’re just not viable sometime in the future.”
Allison said the next step for BART is to find a replacement for federal funding. Instead of following any of the scenarios, Allison said BART is “wrestling with” finding a new source of funding to plan for the exhaustion of federal funding, which is expected to occur around 2025.
This federal funding was part of support from the government when transit agencies saw a decrease in ridership during the pandemic, according to Allison. He added that ridership has not reached the heights of pre-pandemic levels.
Miles Riehle, a student at UC Davis, said people are still hesitant to use public transit, but it is not as bad as before.
While current ridership for BART is still low, with 40% of pre-pandemic weekday levels and 50-to-60% of pre-pandemic weekend levels, service has improved, according to Allison.
Allison said that because BART is “a heavy rail system,” there are costs associated with maintaining transit lines and stations that would still need to be paid no matter how many people are riding. Allison added that it would not be logical for BART to cut its services. Instead, Allison said BART is working with regional partners to find long-term sources of funding.
“Before the pandemic we got most of our operating fund from people who are riding and paying for their tickets, but because our ridership has dropped off so dramatically, we can no longer use that funding model so we’re looking at different funding models,” Allison said.
For college students, Riehle said the necessity of public transportation is high because it is a cheaper alternative to cars.
However, campus senior Dan Sosa alleged that BART wait times have increased and unexplained cancellations occur frequently.
“I very much appreciate the system, but I think there is real work that needs to be done to improve its reliability,” Sosa said in an email. “Car-free living depends on buses and trains you can count on, and I feel as though current service doesn’t live up to that standard.”