New BART director wants to raise fares in San Francisco and end "A" Fast Pass

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Are BART passengers in San Francisco being subsidized by Muni riders and by BART customers from the suburbs? Or is it the other way around? And does it really matter, or should we just be thankful that people are choosing BART over clogging the roadways in this transit-first city?

These are some of the questions arising from an aggressive effort by the newest, youngest member of the BART Board of Directors, Zakhary Mallett, who has proposed severing BART’s partnership with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority to end their joint "A" Fast Pass program that allows unlimited rides on both systems for $74 per month.

And after he’s done with that, Mallett says he’ll take aim at the BART fare structure that charges $1.75 for rides of six miles or less, saying that San Francisco residents shouldn’t be able to access BART’s relatively luxurious trains for less than the $2 it costs to catch a Muni bus.

These are arguments that the 25-year-old Mallet started making last year when he successfully ran against longtime Director Lynette Sweet of San Francisco, with the El Sobrante resident snatching the District 7 seat that represents slivers of San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.  

Mallett, who has a master’s degree in city planning from UC Berkeley, claims his stand is about “fairer fares” and ending “cross subsidies” among various transit riders. But BART  President Tom Radulovich -- the Livable City executive director who has represented San Francisco on the board for more than 16 years -- said his new colleague is simply wrong in his assessment, and that’s he’s pushing it in inappropriate ways.

“I think the Fast Pass works,” Radulovich told us. “I’d love to see us go in the opposite direction [that Mallett is proposing], with more passes for more parts of the system.”

Mallett’s basic argument concerns the difference between the "M" Fast Pass, which allows unlimited rides on Muni for $64 per month, and the "A" Fast Pass, which lets riders also use BART for an extra $10 per month. SFMTA pays BART $1.02 for each of those rides, so Mallett believes that riders who take more than 10 trips per month on BART are being subsidized by other Muni riders. Nevermind the fact that the reason people buy Fast Passes is precisely because they are a bargain for heavy users of the transit system.

“My ultimate goal is equity in fares,” Mallett told us. “My concern is certainly subsidies. I’m guessing that there are subsidies.”

Yet Radulovich said that some simple, back-of-the-envelope math shows that Mallett is wrong, as he believes the more detailed fare study now underway will also show. Radulovich said that given Muni fare-box recovery rates of less than 25 percent, it would cost the agency more than $4 to pay for the trips it is paying BART just over $1 to provide.

“If [Fast Pass A] didn’t exist, Muni would need to pull buses off of other lines and put them on the BART lines,” Radulovich said. “What I told Muni is that if BART carried all your passengers, you’d make money. So that argument [being made by Mallet] is really absurd to me.”

Plus, there’s the simple fact that all transit is subsidized by taxpayers because of the public good it does, both as a direct service and as a diversion for people who might otherwise add congestion to the roadways. So we asked Mallett: What’s the harm? Isn’t it good that people are using public transit?

Mallett responded that, “The harm is who is paying for the subsidies, and it is other transit riders.” In fact, he even makes the racial argument that African-American Muni riders from Bayview shouldn’t be subsidizing white BART riders from Glen Park.  

Yet for all his concern about fare equity, Mallet seems to have tried to avoid doing the federal Title VI analysis that would look at whether low-income individuals and certain ethnic or geographic groups of citizens are being hurt by changes in the fare structure.

In late February, Mallett began contacting officials with the Federal Transportation Administration with a series of phone calls and emails to get information and debate the issue, and that written correspondance was obtained by the Bay Guardian.

“BART needs a way out of this agreement and the agreement stipulates that its way out is to provide a ninety (90) day notice, period.  But depending on how Title VI requirements are interpreted, it can greatly hinder our ability to impose a termination of this agreement,” Mallett wrote to Jonathan Ocana of the FTA’s Office of Civil Rights in a March 5 email, apparently following up on their phone conversation.

Mallett tells the Guardian that he wasn’t trying to avoid a Title VI analysis, only to clarify which agency was required to perform it and to let BART move forward with termination if the SFMTA drags its feet on the study. But he also did seem to make arguments that such a study shouldn’t be required.

“I want to point out that, should this agreement be terminated, the ‘value’ of the FastPass is only impacted in that it would no longer work on BART.  That is, the price of the FastPass would remain the same and could still be used on SFMTA/MUNI services at that same price.  The only change is that the convenience of using it on a third party’s service (i.e., BART’s service) would be discontinued,” Mallett wrote.

Marci Malaster, deputy director of the FTA’s Office of Civil Rights, didn’t agree with Mallett’s analysis, as she told him in a March 14 email: “Once a transit rider enters the BART system, he/she is a BART fare-paying customer, regardless of the fare media used.  From the passenger’s perspective, a fare media currently available for use on BART (the Muni Adult “A” FastPass) would no longer be available for use on BART.  Since this effectively results in a fare increase, BART would need to conduct a fare equity analysis to determine whether elimination of this fare media would result in a disparate impact.  In addition to Title VI concerns, Federal transit law requires a public participation process when a fare is increased.”

That seems clear enough, but Mallett didn’t let it go, responding to Malaster by writing, “the mixed messages I have received in my discussions with FTA staff prior to receiving the below response from you makes this determination somewhat suspect in my mind. Among other things I suspect is that my arguments/viewpoints that I articulated to Mr. Ocana telephonically were not properly relayed for your consideration.  I requested that he allow me to speak to whomever the decision maker is and that request was never granted.”

BART General Manager Grace Crunican was apparently not pleased with Mallett for the tenor and content of his communications with FTA staff, particularly after BART got in trouble with the agency last year for avoiding Title VI analysis on its Oakland Airport connection.

She became aware of the correspondance when Mallett CCed her on one of his emails -- which he apparently forget about, writing to her on March 19 that “I am not sure where or from whom you received information about my communications” -- and when she was contacted by the FTA with concerns about what BART was up to.

“A plain reading of your inquiry could easily lead the FTA to conclude that BART was looking for a way to avoid doing a Title VI analysis in its haste to terminate the FastPass Agreement with SFMTA.  Furthermore, you called into question the integrity of FTA staff in your correspondence.  My letter to the FTA was intended to clearly express to them BART's intent to comply with whatever determination is made by the FTA and to nip in the bud any impression that we were less than committed to Title VI compliance,” Crunican wrote to Mallett in March 20 email. “I acted because the issue seemed to be escalating quickly, involving both the S.F. and D.C. offices of the FTA.  As you must be aware, the FTA is critical to our success and we are in repair mode following past Title VI issues.  We work very hard to maintain a good relationship with the FTA and anything that appears to be inconsistent coming from the District could be damaging to maintaining that relationship.”

But Mallett told the Guardian that his comments have been misinterpreted. “It is incorrect that I don’t want to do that analysis,” Mallett said, maintaining that it was simply a question of who does the analysis. “I was confused who does what. I understand now that BART and SFMTA have to work together.”

Yet he’s showing no signs of backing off of pushing for San Francisco BART riders to pay higher fares. Mallett made a detailed argument on his campaign website that San Francisco BART riders are being subsidized by other BART and Muni riders. He is hoping the current fare study supports raising fares on short BART trips in San Francisco.  

“I’m of the opinion it is an inefficiently low price. You get more for less, that’s why it’s an inefficient fare,” Mallett told us of BART being cheaper than Muni in San Francisco. “My goal is to efficiently price transportation.”

But Radulovich said that since BART’s inception, the heavy ridership in the system’s core has helped hold down fares for longer trips, which use more energy and staff time and create more wear-and-tear on the system, necessarily making them significantly more expensive than the average San Francisco trip.

“He’s making the opposite argument and it’s not substantiated in my mind,” Radulovich said. “The heavy usage in San Francisco subsidizes the rest of the system.”

Beyond just this issue, Radulovich said he’s bothered by the larger neoliberal ideology that Mallett is representing, which treats transit as a commodity that should use pricing to achieve maximum efficiency, rather than a vital public service that should be available to all income brackets in roughly equal measure, which is the progressive position.

“There is a danger of this neoliberal argument that ignores equity,” Radulovich said of Mallett’s focus on fare efficiency, particularly as it tries to privilege BART use over Muni. “People who are relatively rich will stay on BART and there’s something unsettling about that. Let’s push the poor people onto the bus.”

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said the agency is currently working on renewing its FastPass agreement with SFMTA and that they are pleased with the arrangement: “We are working with SFMTA to get a new agreement pass and that’s separate from what Director Mallett has said publicly,” she said. “It helps comply with the city’s transit-first policies and we’re supportive of that intent.”

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told us the new Fast Pass agreement woud increase what SFMTA pays for each BART ride from $1.02 now up to $1.19 in the new agreement, but other than that, "We don't have any specific plans to make any changes."

Radulovich said BART has come a long way from its early days, that were characterized by the mantra “the rich ride, the poor pay,” because San Francisco and Oakland paid a disproportionate amount of money to become accessible by white people in the suburbans of Contra Costa and San Mateo counties.  

“For the first time in our history, we’re really looking at these equity issues,” Radulovich said, a study that Mallett said he also supports and looks forward to reviewing. But when that involves pitting transit riders against one another, Radulovich said, “We send the wrong message to people who want to use transit.”

Comments

coincidence that you can take BART from Embarcadero to 16th Street for $1.75 in fast, safe comfort. Or for $2 sit on a crowded 14 bus and risk being harassed or worse, while breathing an environment that is often disgusting.

I'd like to see more competition between BART and Muni. How about BART out to the ocean underneath Geary? Or to the high-value commuter belt in Pacific Heights and Marina?

NB: SFBG opposed BART 40 years ago so I'm glad to see you praising it now.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

When BART was built, San Francisco's 'progressive' politicians promised FREE transfers between BART and MUNI.
FREE - being the operative word.
The downtown SF Market Street stations were all originally designed so a passenger could get on an escalator on the BART level and transfer directly to the MUNI level without having to leave the system. Of course - the 'progressive' politicians promise was thrown out the window when the system opened and metal bars went up in the stations to prevent free transfers.
So why the $10 "extra" for a fast pass in the first place?
$400,000 a year MTA directors that drive their Bentleys everywhere?

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

Who does he think he is to rock the boat and question "inappropriately?" He needs to learn to defer to the wisdom of elders like Radulovich.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 21, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

transit system to area's where unemployment is high, crime is high, and there is little possibility of decent revenues, and so of course he is a racist.

While SF builds the Third Street "Streetcar to Nowhere" and wonders why their farebox recovery rate is a fraction of BART's.

Can we fire SFMTA, fire all the Muni operators and have BART run everything please?

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

Did it ever occur to you that extending trains to neighborhoods that have the ills you describe (as well as many positive traits that you choose to ignore) might help those neighborhoods? Or is that you think we might as well leave our fellow San Franciscans who live there in the dust?

Posted by Hortencia on May. 21, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

It's farebox recovery rate is a dismal 25% because it is run like food stamps.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

Which is still dismal.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 21, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

either way, it should be up to the 80% to 90% range achievd by the transit systems of some other cities.

Zero tolerance of fare avoidance would be a start but every time that is suggested, it is dismissed as "racist" because, apparently, blacks and hispanics are more likely to evade fares.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:43 am

Farebox recovery is a dismal 25% because BART makes no attempt to curb fare evasion.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:00 am

Muni often has neither, just a driver who doesn't give a crap.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:10 am

But Radulovich appears to have the better argument here.

Posted by Hortencia on May. 21, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

How come there is no mention of the transfers received with purchase of Muni fare? You get three rides for the price of one (often more as many drivers don't even check the transfers), so Muni is actually significantly cheaper than Bart.
I always felt that $1.75 for a one way ride on Bart for what could only be a few short blocks was a rip off.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 2:53 pm
Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

BART is cheaper when you don't pay your fare too. I see people jumping turnstiles and entering/exiting emergency access gates every day. Never once seen one of the lazy station agents do anything about it.

At least Muni gives you a transfer, so you can go to your destination and back for $2 if you're going on a short trip. Cheaper than BART which is a minimum of $3.50 round trip.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 6:58 am

It's also far faster, more comfortable and safer.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 7:11 am

Maybe it's faster cause it runs underground and makes fewer stops?

Posted by pete moss on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:54 am

You want to be on a muni bus doing 80?

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 11:21 am

BART would be useless without San Francisco.
The downtown BART stations are the only stations in the system which turn enough styles to turn a profit.

They should not bite the hand that feeds them, while simultaneously planning more service to farther flung areas of the bay.

Posted by NOT_Eric_Brooks on May. 21, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

and thereby solve the affordable housing problem.

But the center of Bay Area economic activity has now moved to San Jose and silicon Valley, which is why BART needs to extend there, eventually encircling the Bay.

At which point, downtown SF won't be anything special.

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 6:25 pm
???

The center of Bay Area economic activity has moved to San Jose? Laughable.

Aside from gross economic activity being higher in SF, SF does it in a far more dense space.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:17 am

Most investors would say the South Bay is a more powerful economic activity and that the coprorations based there have a higher market cap.

Indeed, Google and Apple alone probably have a market cap that exceeds all of SF.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:31 am

@SFBG - This seems contradicting of your endorsement statement of the man: "Some of his ideas sound a bit off at first — he wants, for example, to raise the cost of subsidized BART rides offered to Muni pass holders — but when you look a the numbers, and who is subsidizing who, it actually makes some sense." (http://www.sfbg.com/2012/10/02/endorsements-2012-state-and-national-race...)

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

Does anyone know why Mallet was fired from his internship at SFO?

Posted by Guest on May. 21, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

Usually it just ends early.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 21, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

Haven't we been through this before? I don't have the exact numbers in hand but the overall BART subsidy from the MTC is dramatically higher than what it hands over to Muni on a per-ride basis. And everyone seems to forget that the damn trains run through SF pretty much no matter what, making the marginal cost of intra-SF riders pretty well negligible. On the other hand running trains and maintaining stations used by the folks living out in the outskirts of the urban core dramatically increases the costs without any corresponding network benefits and certainly no benefits to core riders. That a UC Planner can't get his mind around this makes me embarrassed for my alma mater.

Posted by MossyBuddha on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:16 am

Haven't we been through this before? I don't have the exact numbers in hand but the overall BART subsidy from the MTC is dramatically higher than what it hands over to Muni on a per-ride basis. And everyone seems to forget that the damn trains run through SF pretty much no matter what, making the marginal cost of intra-SF riders pretty well negligible. On the other hand running trains and maintaining stations used by the folks living out in the outskirts of the urban core dramatically increases the costs without any corresponding network benefits and certainly no benefits to core riders. That a UC Planner can't get his mind around this makes me embarrassed for my alma mater.

Posted by MossyBuddha on May. 22, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Imagine if BART didn't run to SF at all and was just a east bay thing. Then consider the massive cost of building out the infrastructure to SF. On that basis, the SF portion of BARt costs far more than places where it can just run alongside freeways at a much lower cost.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 9:23 am

the main purpose of its existence is to bring people from the residential hinterlands into the dense commercial core.

Posted by MossyBuddha on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

many people south and east out of SF to jobs in neighboring counties.

Plus ou have major economic centers in the south bay, San Jose, Oakland and the suburban centers of Pleasanton, Walnut Creek and so on.

The Bay Area no longer looks just to SF but rather to Marin, Santa Clara and the East Bay counties.

We live in a networked cluster of cities and not a traditional old-style downtown and burbs.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

What Mallett fails to see is that if ALL BART ticketing were on the same mileage charge, the SF Muni Pass riders would pay about what Muni pays BART on their usage but the suburban riders would see their fares rise by 40% or more. BART's fare structure bills short distance riders nearly double the mileage charge assessed on longer distance riders. This distorts the "neo liberal" user charge scheme by diverting higher maintenance cost longer trips to fares paid by short distance riders.This inequity is further exacerbated by lower ridership to the outlying stations so that each car mile generated produces less revenue.
BART at its inception wanted to be a suburban commuter RR, but the reality is much more an urban subway system. Tom Radulovich is right: local bus pass honoring on BART should be expanded--for instanceAC Transit passes on any segment where both agencies operate.
We as taxpayers pony up taxes to get around not to pay attention to uniform colors or branding.

Posted by david vartanoff on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:45 am

You really cannot compare the cost-per-mile for that with a system that probably moves at an average speed of under 10mph.

BART is the crown jewel of the Bay Area transit system and the only part of it that operates at a level of comfort, speed and efficency that you see in, say, Europe. The rest, to be blunt, sucks.

So we need to invest in BART and disinvest in all these crappy tin-alley bus lines that groan from block to block so badly and unsafely that large segments of the population refuse to use it at all.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:58 am

Cant we take a look at the whole picture.. the big picture? BART capital costs are through the roof with multi-billion dollar extensions and costs for maintenance, replacement cars, etc are stacking up. IF we spent an equal amount to fund MUNI we would have an equally great system, but they inherently serve different purposes in different operating environments. MUNI would run more efficiently if there were fewer stops, did not have to interact with cars and people, and just think what would happen if it only served "profitable" routes rather than having a network where you can practically get anywhere with only one transfer.

You cannot compare a regional system like BART to a local agency like MUNI. It just doesn't work! And you cant compare a fully grade separated system with a mixed bus, train, cable car system that is forced to run in mixed traffic. YES, in TRAFFIC.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

I'm sorry, but "Director" Mallett needs to understand the people he is representing and the role of the agency he is "leading". Not only was he unjustified in his comments and correspondenace with the FTA, his ideas were baseless and could harm the future of BART if not kept in check. I'd much rather see a more seasoned leader on the Board with ideas to keep Bart affordable and make it accessible to everyone.

Pitting urban commuters vs suburban commuters is just plain dumb. BART is here to serve everyone, and attracting and maintaining riders should be a priority.

I'd be really interested in a review of clipper data to see where these people are going and when. For the most part, these people may be utilizing capacity that would otherwise go unused in the reverse commute direction.

Posted by Guest on May. 22, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

This idiot doesn't seem to understand why the fast pass fares were instituted in the first place. Not surprising since they don't teach history in school but here's the main point - BART took over many Muni right of ways to build the system as is - including taking over the right of way for the old Interurban service. Because of BART's use of the right of way, the Interurban had to end at Daly City which ensured its death. (Ironically decades later they'd use much of it to extend the line to San Mateo County and SFO)

The compensation is that riders in SF within city limits would use their fast pass, and Muni would pay the cost however it wanted to. The false choice of the two fast passes was done primarily to hide fare increases for monthly pass holders.

Finally, it is SF riders who are being cheated, given how BART insists on building extensions to stations that have low ridership in the exurbs. Meanwhile, a Geary line would take a load off of Muni and actually make money. People laugh when anyone says this but if anyone would get off their ass and do some research they'd find it's true.

Posted by This Guy's A Dumbass on May. 24, 2013 @ 11:59 am

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