UPDATE: Read my post-meeting report here to find out what happened.
I had a fun, lighthearted post planned for today, but thanks to BART, that will have to wait another day. Because shockingly, BART has gone and pissed me off once again. You might remember my post in February about the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). If not, I’ll refresh your memory. The OAC is an absurdly expensive project that was basically dead due to lack of funding, but was revived when stimulus funds became available. Even though more than 100 people spoke out against applying $70 million of stimulus funds to the OAC, the MTC voted nearly unanimously (except Tom Bates) to fund the OAC.
Transit advocates were understandably upset by this vote, since Bay Area transit agencies desperately need those funds. But we held out some hope that this terrible project still might die and be revived into a cheaper and more useful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. Why? Because even with the $70 million, BART was still about $100 million short in financing the project, and the MTC made it very clear that they needed to secure the rest of the funding by this June to be eligible for stimulus funds.
Yesterday, I found out what their financing plan is. No, they haven’t found some secret pot of federal or state money. No, they haven’t decided to nix Bart to San Jose and use the savings on the OAC. Their brilliant plan is to take out a loan of up to $150 million.
Yes, you read that right. While transit agencies across the nation, including BART, are raising fares and cutting service, BART is planning to take out a large loan to fund a project that could be completed for the third of the price if converted to BRT. BART staff is of course claiming that ridership on the OAC will be high enough to cover all debt service, but it’s hard for me to believe that, since historically BART’s ridership projections have been wildly high.
Which brings me to another point that I don’t think I covered well enough in the last post on this subject. One of the reasons that I don’t think BART can meet its ridership projections for the OAC is because this rail project would only have two stops – Coliseum BART and the Oakland Airport. There will be no stops in between, and since the project is so expensive, I’m guessing there will be no chance for future expansion past the Coliseum BART.
If instead, we built a state of the art BRT system – complete with gorgeous buses with low floors and attractive stations – there could be several stops between BART and the aiport. Not only that, but since BRT is so much cheaper, we could use some of the savings to expand the BRT project beyond BART to the 1/1R line, which will ultimately be a BRT line. It could even be expanded further, to Eastmont Mall, which is already a transit hub. This would mean that a BRT airport connector would serve East Oakland residents, in addition to serving air travelers. And with an ultimate savings that could be redistributed among Bay Area transit agencies to halt fair raises and/or service cuts.
I’ll be going to the BART Board meeting tomorrow morning to tell them all of this. If you’d like to join me, the meeting is at 9:00am at the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall – Third Floor, 344 – 20th Street in Oakland.