By John Ramos

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – While BART ridership remains way down compared to before the pandemic, officials are scrambling to replace lost revenues, and that includes people who are freeloading on the system.

The agency has a “carrot and stick” plan to lure riders back and actually make them buy a ticket.

BART runs its operation largely from money collected at the fare gates. But ridership is still at 25% of pre-pandemic levels.

“Federal emergency funds are going to get us through this budget and next budget, but after that we need to find new revenue sources,” said BART spokesperson Alicia Trost.

So, here’s the carrot.  Starting Wednesday, and for the entire month of September, all fares are 50% off for Clipper Card users, including already discounted fares, like for seniors and students.

The normal rates will still be listed at the stations, but the half-off discount will be automatically applied to all Clipper Card fares. BART rider Dustin Johnson considered it a no-brainer.

“If it’s 50% off, yeah, most definitely I think it would give people more incentive to ride,” Johnson said.

That’s where the stick comes in.  KPIX 5 has done numerous reports about the blatant fare evasion at BART stations, as people breeze right through the gates without paying.

Evasion is costing BART $25 million a year and angering the riders who do pay.

“They don’t want to feel like people are taking advantage of the system. And so, we’re responding to that feedback and trying to make it much more difficult for people to fare evade,” said BART Engineering Group Manager, Wendy Wheeler.

On Wednesday, at the Rockridge station, engineers were finishing up installation of new Plexiglas fare gates.

Tougher fare gate installed at the Rockridge BART station in Oakland. (CBS)

Tougher fare gate installed at the Rockridge BART station in Oakland. (CBS)

BART has tried a number of different designs, including one that riders nicknamed “The Guillotine,” with gates that slam shut at the legs and head.

So far, each new model has been defeated by fare cheats, often by brute force. But the new design takes that into account, with a deadbolt that locks into place each time the gate closes.

“The bolt goes in and it’s a solid bolt, and so it’s incredibly difficult to push through the gate now,” said Wheeler, as she tugged and shoved at the gate. “You can slam on it, you can push on it…it just doesn’t move.”

The plan is to install fare gates throughout the system, which could take several years and an estimated $90 million.

The engineers say the latest design may require a barrier across the top to keep people from climbing over, but if it works, BART may have a new system for keeping people honest since, up to now, the honor system hasn’t worked out so well.