OAKLAND (CBS SF) — With substantial ridership and sales tax revenue losses due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, BART’s current projected fiscal year 2020-2021 budget includes more than $100 million in cuts while avoiding layoffs and furloughs, BART officials said Thursday.
The BART Board of Directors received a report on the budget at its Thursday meeting, with proposed cuts to multiple sectors of the agency. Expenses in the proposed budget have been cut by $145 million from those outlined in the agency’s $1.016 billion preliminary budget, which the board reviewed roughly two weeks ago.
Labor spending, down $35 million, and capital allocations, down $92 million, took the two largest hits among the agency’s planned expenditures. The addition of $44 million in coronavirus-related spending brought BART’s proposed expenses to $915 million, a 10 percent drop from the preliminary budget.
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“We’re one of the few transit agencies that takes money out of our operating budget and puts it towards capital priorities,” BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman said. “We have the commitment and hopefully very soon we’ll be able to reinstitute (those projects).”
The status of further budget cuts for BART as the pandemic continues are heavily dependent on federal funding support, according to agency officials. The cuts are not expected to continue to next year’s budget, but that is also contingent on future federal funding.
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While a one-year hiring freeze for BART station employees and police officers is expected to save the agency about $36 million, BART expects to receive a total of $239 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
On Wednesday, BART General Manager Bob Powers called the budget “precariously balanced” and heavily reliant on the agency’s allocations from the CARES Act.
With a budget adoption deadline of June 25, BART may make further adjustments to the proposal as needed. Powers said the board will receive quarterly budget updates going forward as the pandemic continues.
“We’re going to work to shape what we can shape,” Powers told the board Thursday. “We’re going to monitor and react quickly to those items that we cannot shape.”
BART officials said trains will remain on a 30-minute base schedule for the immediate future as ridership hovers around 90 percent below normal.
BART officials expect train service to begin increasing back toward a 15-minute base schedule by September, when the agency expects the state to further relax its coronavirus shelter-in-place order.
On its current timeline, the agency would not need to bulk up its staff of train conductors until early 2021, provided the virus’ spread begins to dissipate or a treatment such as a vaccine is developed and available on a large scale.
On Wednesday, BART announced a 15-point plan to earn ridership trust back and give passengers confidence that trains will be safe when they return to riding BART regularly.
The plan builds on the health and safety protocols BART enacted as the pandemic began in earnest in mid-March such as more frequent disinfection and sanitization of train cars and stations and making hand sanitizer available at all stations.
“We knew that there were issues with safety and cleanliness even before the pandemic hit,” Board Director Janice Li told BART officials Thursday. “So early and often, please engage my board colleagues and myself on what we can do to encourage the safe return of our riders.”
The board must approve the budget by June 25. Fiscal year 2021 will begin July 1.