BART ridership has increased from five years ago. But so have fares. And debt.
The rail system is running off the financial track. After failing for nearly four decades to set aside adequate equipment replacement funds, the agency faces an estimated $6.1 billion capital shortfall over the next 25 years.
There's no way to raise that sum from fares. So, the transit system, which already collects property and sales taxes, will probably have to go to voters for more. It will be a tough sell unless BART first cleans up its finances.
Fares rank among the nation's highest, dwarfing commuter rail systems in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and between New Jersey and New York City. When BART last surveyed, it also found salaries, even after regional cost-of-living adjustments, among the top.
Employees pay nothing toward their lucrative pensions, and can retire after just five years with heavily subsidized lifetime health care. Meanwhile, funds for pensions and retiree health care are collectively short about $769 million, equal to three years of employee base salaries.
Major changes must be made in collective bargaining next year as union contracts expire. Hence, in the Nov. 6 elections, we are looking for candidates who will put the interests of riders and taxpayers first.
Fred Lopez for District 3: Lopez is the only district candidate who fully recognizes the problem, warning of a "fiscal precipice" ahead. He correctly calls for examining wages, benefits and workplace rules.
Anthony Pegram, a BART engineer, was a key administrator for one of BART's most wasteful projects, the connector to the Oakland Airport. He says the agency can solve its fiscal mess by attracting more riders. That's fantasy.
Rebecca Saltzman, currently a League of Conservation Voters political coordinator, was previously a public relations strategist against the airport extension project. She defends current BART employee compensation.
John McPartland for District 5: McPartland, the incumbent, recognizes the district's serious capital shortfall must be addressed. Unfortunately, he supported the airport connector, which diverted funds that could have gone to more beneficial projects.
The alternative, John Maher, was a BART union leader before retirement. He represented workers in bargaining on seven contracts, including the contentious 2009 negotiations that almost led to a shutdown. While he says he wants to switch sides, he still talks like a labor leader, claiming BART negotiators hide money. If only they had money to hide.
Lynette Sweet for District 7: Sweet, a San Francisco resident, has represented the district since 2003 even though most of it lies in the East Bay. We have long objected to that city's disproportionate influence on the BART board and have previously opposed Sweet. But of the four candidates, she is best prepared for the fiscal challenges.
Opponent Zakhary Mallett, a recent master's graduate of UC Berkeley's city planning program, had only sketchy concepts of how pensions worked. Recalled Pinole Councilwoman Maria Alegria didn't make a compelling case for her re-entry into local politics. And former Oakland Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon lacked basic understanding of BART finances.
Go to www.insidebayarea.com/endorsements to get our latest endorsements and view the Editorial Board's candidate interview videos of various races.