Up in Oakland, MTC and BART believed it is still business as usual as they plan for the Oakland Airport Connector, a people mover providing connection between the Coliseum station and the Oakland Airport. However it is no longer the case when BART received a letter from FTA threatening to pull out $70 million stimulus funds from the Bay Area because BART failed to produce an equity analysis showing the impacts of the OAC project on low income and minority communities.
In response, MTC staff has recommended its board to continue supporting the OAC project, but would give BART a few weeks to complete the equity analysis. If BART fails to convince FTA, then that stimulus funding would be distributed to local transit agencies. Under that alternative, Muni and BART each would receive $17 million, VTA would receive $12 million, and AC Transit would receive $7 million.
OAC supporters argued that OAC stimulates the economy by providing needed construction jobs. At the same time, distributing the same funds to local agencies also help the economy by curbing job losses by transit agencies as they cut service. Even after a series of service cuts implemented by Muni last month, Muni is still projecting a $16.9 million budget gap, which means further service cuts and fare hikes. For VTA, that $12 million could go a long way as VTA is dipping into reserve this year and next year, on top of service cuts implemented earlier this month.
Although the Obama administration has expressed willingness to increase federal transit funding and loosen up the eligibility requirements to receive such funds, it is also clear that maintaining transit service is a priority. Yesterday, President Obama was speaking at an event in Lorain County Ohio and commented on the impact of transit cuts in that county: "You can't get to work or go buy groceries like you used to because of cuts in the county transit system." Lorain County eliminated 2/3 of its bus routes after voters rejected a sales tax increase to address the funding shortfall. The service cuts are hitting hard especially on senior and disabled riders, and making economic recovery difficult as more and more unemployed have difficult access to jobs and schools for training.
Back in the Bay Area, one of the main issues for the OAC is the proposed $6 one way fare. The current AirBART shuttle service costs $3 one way and requires no tax subsidy. Compared to the bus service, the proposed project would not be significantly faster or frequent, and would drop off riders at the airport further away from the terminals than the existing buses. While many airport travelers may be willing to pay the high fares, $12 round trip is obviously too high for airport employees. To address FTA's concerns, BART could argue that it can give fare discounts to airport employees and other low income groups. But then can BART promises ever be trusted? 12 years ago, BART promised free fare for Caltrain riders between Millbrae and the SF Airport. Now, it is $4 one way for a one station ride. Also, BART does not waive the $4 airport surcharge for SFO employees, which prompted the airport to provide its own employee shuttle to Millbrae.