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People Should Insist That Fares Match Costs for BART Airport Boondoggle

BART’s new ride to Oakland International Airport will open later this year, system officials say. All the evidence reveals critics were right to oppose this project and critics shouldn’t stop now.

The rail line, called the Oakland Airport Connector, is 3.1 miles long and links the Oakland Coliseum BART station with the Oakland Airport by a mostly elevated line running above Hegenberger Road.

The price tag for this project is a whopping $484 million, meaning it cost $29,576 per foot to build. To put this into perspective, the new One World Trade Center in New York City costs $1,495 per square foot to build. But the bleeding of the public doesn’t stop here.

The Connector’s rail cars will be automated, driverless and cable-propelled, yet with all this technology a new financial report finds it will cost $11 million in the first fiscal year to operate the line and $13.5 million the following fiscal year. Using BART’s ridership estimate of 3,350 passengers per day, the operating cost will be $11 per trip for a ride of less than 15 minutes.

Reports indicate, however, the highest fare that BART is currently considering is $6 a ride. It doesn’t take a financial genius to figure out that if costs are $11 a trip and revenue is $6 a trip, operating deficits will be huge, requiring massive subsidies to keep it rolling.

BART expects deficits for the Airport Connector of up to $7.9 million the first year and $7 million the second. Welcome to the irresponsible world of BART finances.

None of this was necessary because a shuttle bus, AirBART, which followed a similar route, was already providing a link to the airport. The bus link could have been easily and cheaply improved, especially for so few passengers.

Now massive subsidies will be required for the Connector, draining money from other BART priorities such as replacing aging computer systems or repairing broken rail cars. And, as usual, taxpayers will be the backstop to pay for this boondoggle.

In addition to its revenues from passenger fares, parking and advertising, BART gets revenues from sales taxes, property taxes, regional bridge tolls, grants from the state of California for transit assistance and federal grants.

The Connector is scheduled to open this year, yet officials are still debating what to charge. Any responsible businessman would have figured out first if there would be sufficient customers and revenue to justify the project. But bureaucrats don’t care about this because they know taxpayers can be forced to cover their losses.

BART’s Board of Directors will meet on Thursday for a public hearing on the Connector fares. Fares will be set on June 12. Critics who saw from the beginning that this project was a boondoggle—especially transit advocacy groups and social justice groups—should attend these public meetings, tell the board “I told you so,” and demand that fares be set at a rate that will minimize the need for subsidies and taxpayer bailouts.

Lawrence J. McQuillan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute, and author of the Independent book, California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Solve America's Public Pension Crisis, he also a contributor to the book Pope Francis and the Caring Society. .

New from Lawrence J. McQuillan!
CALIFORNIA DREAMING: Lessons on How to Resolve America’s Public Pension Crisis
In California Dreaming, Lawrence J. McQuillan pulls back the curtains covering this unfunded liability crisis. He describes the true extent of the problem, explains the critical factors that are driving public pension debt sky-high, and exposes the perverse incentives of lawmakers and pension officials that reward them for not fixing the problem and letting it escalate.