BART, SF Muni, Caltrain’s doomsday scenario. How bad could that be?

In a post-apocalyptic vision of Bay Area public transportation, BART is canceling weekend services and closing nine stations just to keep the lights on elsewhere. Trains run once an hour instead of every 15 minutes. San Francisco’s municipal buses run around on life support, and East Bay’s AC Transit eliminates “a lot of local lines.” Ferry services across the bay will be halved.

This is not an apocalyptic fantasy drawn on a paper napkin. These are a series of federally mandated planning documents obtained through a request for public records by the Bay Area News Group, and are real-life scenarios drafted by local transit agencies. The grim forecast is a result of the region’s commuter trains, buses and boats struggling to recover from a significant decline in passenger numbers during the COVID pandemic, and the remaining federal relief funds that helped keep them operational. is used up.

“People don’t understand that the transportation system is on the verge of collapse,” said Ian Griffiths, who heads the transportation advocacy group Seamless Bay Area. “They are in danger.”

How bad can it get? A closer look at the documents each agency sent to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s umbrella transport group, reveals a rare region-wide account of what cutbacks in service might look like under a dire financial outlook. Unless Bay Area taxpayers and state leaders in Sacramento raise more money to revive the ailing system, this is possible, they say.

  • Bart: The suspension of two of the five lines (red and green) means there will be no direct trains from Richmond and Berryessa to San Francisco.
  • Caltrain: Even with a $2.4 billion electrified train on track, it’s slashing service amid a $50 million deficit.
  • AC Transit: “Many local lines” will be reduced or eliminated altogether.
  • ferry: Major noon and weekend services crossed the bay. Service extensions to Berkeley, Redwood City and Mission Bay have been discontinued.
  • Muni: Overall bus routes return to pandemic-era levels, with reduced frequency of buses 2, 6 and 21

of scenario – similar to the transit planning war game – also offering a window into an alternative version of the post-pandemic Bay Area future.

In the most optimistic scenario, Bay Area commuters pack trains and buses back every day. Connections are fast and reliable due to the bustle of the city center and high-tech his campus. But a darker picture is emerging in downtown San Francisco and Silicon Valley, with tech layoffs on the rise and warning signs of an impending recession flashing.

Service cuts could be much smaller than those seen during the Great Recession and the dotcom bubble. Canceled trains leave people stranded. Car owners escape public transport and cram highways.Only the Bay Area’s most desperate residents are counting on crumbling network.

Bobby Barrett is one of those stuck on a reduced BART ride. I rely on the train every day to commute from Antioquia to Auckland International Airport. “People have no other choice. This makes a huge difference,” he says. Her request for agencies that may soon turn to service cuts is, “Stop.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 13: Passengers board the first train to depart the new BART Berryessa Station opening in San Jose, CA on Saturday, June 13, 2020. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

At the heart of these transportation planning scenarios is a clear call from local transportation planners. They need more money, not build. Shiny new stationor make a second tunnel under the bay, but keep the system runningOver the next five years, the Bay Area’s seven largest operators will face a cumulative operating loss of $2 billion, according to the MTC, which oversees transportation finance in the region.

What’s driving the crisis? One of the country’s worst passenger numbers collapses. Agencies such as Caltrain, BART, and the Golden Gate Ferry built their existence by attracting commuters coming and going. downtown san francisco, but now many of us are working from the comfort of our homes. “It’s not just a potential recession. It’s a real shift in behavior and occupancy,” said Jason Baker of his Silicon Valley leadership group. “Transit, as we know it, is in serious danger.”

But the decline in passenger numbers during the pandemic, while significant, is only part of the problem. There are issues that have long plagued transportation budgets, including rising labor costs, inflationary pressures, and historical past. waste and inefficiencyBefore the pandemic, taxpayers subsidized the operating costs of the Bay Area transit system by about 50% to 85%, depending on the transit agency in charge, and paid for sales and property taxes, bridge tolls, and even parking. We were transferring billions of dollars every year until we got a ticket.

“You add up all these issues and they come forward and say, ‘There’s a doomsday scenario, pay your taxes.’ It’s a tough drug to swallow,” says Steve Glazer State of Olinda said the senator. “Now they basically ignore the diet and want the taxpayer to pay the check.”

For example, in San Francisco’s Muni, the long-term service reduction is 21%, even in a best-case scenario of immediate congestion with crowded buses on the Central Subway, a $1.95 billion light rail project that opened Saturday. is predicted to be Across buses and rail, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The Rose Pack Station in Chinatown is the first new subway line on San Francisco's Central Subway in over 40 years.  October 20, 2022.  (Jeremy Menzies, SFMTA)
The Rose Pack Station in San Francisco Chinatown is part of the Central Subway, which opened on November 18 and October 20, 2022. (Jeremy Menzies, SFMTA)

Jonathan Rewer, Chief Financial Officer of SFMTA, which operates Muni, said: He cited a labor deal that would raise his wages by 11% over his three-year period from 2019, raising fuel costs and other inflationary pressures.

Each institution now faces its own financial deadlines. financial cliff, when the billions of dollars of federal aid they received in the pandemic dried up. Their cliffs vary in time and size, depending on how efficiently the agency expanded relief funds, its own budget puzzle, and the influence of Byzantine federal funding schemes.

Coming up first is Caltrain, which is predicted to have a $25 million budget hole. next year, followed by the Muni and Golden Gate bus and ferry districts. BART Fiscal Cliff Likely in 2025. Funding for Santa Clara County agencies could be overturned by recessionary pressures, according to the VTA’s financials, which have been delayed until 2027 for healthy sales tax revenues.

Officials are quick to stress that doomsday predictions are “paper exercises” and not policy decisions and do not account for prospects for fare increases. There are often budgetary moves that carriers can make to avoid the worst cuts. Still, officials said the trends outlined in the exercise were true.

The biggest cut potential is at BART, the regional rail hub, where service could plummet by 80% in what transportation planners call a “death spiral.” The severity is due to the high fixed costs of operating the rail system, the agency said. In order to get out of the budget crisis, BART will have to cut back on services so much that passengers flee, causing an even more severe cycle of budget hurt and passenger loss.

“We’re suspending service until people can’t get on the trains,” said Michael Eiseman, BART’s financial planning director.

Buses that can scale service more easily could see cuts ranging from 15% for AC Transit, the largest bus operator in the East Bay, to 25% for San Francisco’s Muni, compared to pre-pandemic levels. I have. “We’ve had 10% cuts before, and even that was pretty drastic,” said Peter Strauss, former service planner at SFMTA, which runs Muni. San Francisco cannot accept a 20% reduction in service without giving

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 9: VTA buses are waiting to pick up passengers at the Berryessa BART Station in San Jose, CA on Wednesday, December 9, 2020.  (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 9: A VTA bus waits to pick up passengers at the Berryessa BART Station in San Jose, CA on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

The future of the Bay Area’s transportation network, which forms an important social safety net and reduces traffic and carbon emissions, is at stake according to transportation advocates. But there are also major tensions in the agency’s demands for more money. Are state and local taxpayers willing to invest more dollars in lagging transit systems? move fewer people Fewer cars leaving the road? BART, SF Muni, Caltrain’s doomsday scenario. How bad could that be?

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