BART directors and officials say that revenues from fare increases they just approved for every even-numbered year from now to 2020 will go only for capital improvements.
But buried in the resolution the board approved last month is language that enables the additional money to go, in part, to "meeting operating expenses such as employee wage rates and fringe benefits."
Either BART leaders have made a clerical error or they are trying to fool taxpayers and riders. Whatever the reason, this must be fixed.
BART riders, already forced to pay far too much to travel on the transit system, should not be expected to fork over more to boost the compensation of workers who are well-compensated and enjoy rich pension and health benefits.
The timing couldn't be worse. As BART prepares to enter negotiations with unionized workers whose contracts expire this summer, the last thing the board should be doing is signaling that it intends to fatten the pot of funds available for salaries and benefits.
We don't like the automatic fare increases, but we reluctantly accept that they are needed for capital improvements. We recognize that, after failing for nearly four decades to set aside adequate funds, the agency faces an estimated $6.1 billion shortfall over the next 25 years just to refurbish and replace existing equipment.
We also recognize that fare increases will be needed to leverage capital funding from the federal government. But not a dime should go to compensation. Nor should money currently going for capital needs be diverted elsewhere.
BART historically has had some of the best paid transit workers in the nation, especially train operators and station agents. At the same time, employees contribute nothing toward their pensions and very little toward their health benefits.
BART next fiscal year will pay 52 cents toward pensions for every dollar of payroll. And for other workers, the transit system will pay 20 cents for every dollar of payroll.
Workers in most cases pay $92 a month for health insurance, regardless of how many dependents they have. The district contributes anywhere from $692 monthly for coverage of only the employee to $1,948 for a family with two or more dependents.
And workers starting at age 50 can retire after just five years on the job and continue to receive the same heavily subsidized health benefits on top of their pensions.
The pension and retiree health care benefits are expensive, yet over the years BART has failed to properly fund them. As a result, on top of the capital shortfall, the system has a $636 million unfunded liability for its retirement programs, roughly double what the fare increases are expected to generate over the next eight years.
In sum, the system is deeply in debt, riders are already paying too much, yet directors have left the door open to using the fare increase for increased compensation of employees who already enjoy generous salaries and benefits.
That door must be closed.