BART fares will rise 5.4 percent Jan. 1 under a previous board decision to impose every-other-year increases tied to the inflation rate.

Transit system administrators disclosed the extent of the fare increase Thursday as they unveiled a proposed BART operating budget of $624.8 million, up 8 percent from the fiscal year ending June 30.

Budget writers project an $8.9 million surplus — enabling BART to add 24 workers to cleaning crews in trains and stations, positions that were cut in recent years.

In a separate item, the BART board took a step toward allowing riders to pay station parking fees without having to remember parking stall numbers.

The 5.4 percent fare increase, effective Jan 1, will occur automatically under a BART board decision in 2003 to raise fares every two years.

"The board wanted to have modest increases at predictableintervals rather than take no action for several years and then face a large increase," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

The fare for a trip between Walnut Creek and Embarcadero station will climb from $4.25 to $4.50, according to calculations by MediaNews. A ride from Walnut Creek to the San Francisco airport will increase from $6.65 to $7. In Oakland, the ticket price to travel from 12th Street station to MacArthur will rise from $1.40 to $1.50.

Fare increases are based on a formula linked to the inflation rate over two years, Johnson said.

In his budget message, BART General Manager Thomas Margro said district finances have improved enough to expand cleaning crews by 24 positions

The additions will bring car and station cleaning crews to an all time high of 115 positions, officials said

BART customers have expressed declining satisfaction with car and station cleanliness, according to a 2006 customer survey

Margro said the preliminary budget isn't as tight as the last several ones, but he cautioned that the district still faces financial threats.

"The district must remain cautious," he said, "because the economic growth of the past years is slowing and medical and health care costs continue to escalate at a rate that threaten the district's well-being."

BART also plans in the coming year to place paramedics inside some busy stations during commute hours to reduce train delays during medical emergencies, Johnson said.

When a passenger has a heart attack, the train now must wait until paramedics arrive.

Paramedics assigned to stations can ensure quicker help for ailing passengers, and a faster return to service for trains, Johnson said.

The BART board plans to hold a budget hearing in May and vote on the budget June 14.

Meanwhile, the board agreed to pay a contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. up to $1.2 million more for equipment to offer a new way to collect station parking fees.

In about two years, the new technology will enable passengers to pay for parking with EZ rider smart cards — a small card that can be swiped over a scanner to record a financial transaction.

Currently, BART passengers get hit with $25 parking tickets if they pay parking fees but fail to enter the correct stall number on fee collection equipment.

Once a passenger swipes his card to pay for parking, his card number will be added automatically to a daily list of those who paid for parking.

BART parking officers can recognize the passenger's car from a numbered tag kept on the windshield.

"This enhancement will make BART easier to use," Johnson said. "Passengers in a rush sometimes forget the number."