BART Should Be Ashamed of Ticket Giveaway – Revised

I don’t want to sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas, but I find it ironic that BART, which is planning a future ballot measure to ask voters in 3 counties to approve a $651 million dollar parcel tax to replace aging train cars, last week gave commuters more than 65,000 vouchers for free round trip rides. (Last year BART distributed 60,000 free round trip vouchers.)

Because, like Ben Franklin I believe “A penny saved is a penny earned”, I object to taxpayer-subsidized public agencies acting like Santa Claus and handing out thousands of dollars of freebies. Therefore, I decided to query BART as to the actual cost of their holiday shopping promotion.

I was subsequently informed that this year’s holiday promotion cost BART approximately the same as last year’s promotion, e.g. $25,000 to print the vouchers, hire the street teams to hand them out and other associated costs, and that the promotions were designed specifically to increase leisure ridership as the vast majority of riders use it solely during weekdays to get to and from work.

BART’s communication officer also told me that “last year’s promotion didn’t cost us anything, rather it made money. This is for two reasons: as I mentioned, not all trips taken with the free tickets would have been made without the incentive because those people normally would have been making the trip in a car. We’re not losing money because that person would have been driving anyway.

“Second, many of the riders using free tickets last year brought along companions who paid full fare. In fact, 36% of those riding last year did so with an average of 1.82 fare-paying companions, thereby adding to our revenue Even using the conservative numbers (total expenditure for last year’s promotion $24,207.59), the program made its money back and 28% in additional revenue.”

Frankly, I’m having a hard time following BART’s logic. BART has a history of inaccurate financial projections and a problem increasing ridership. BART does, however, know how to wage strong public relations campaigns.

Although one of the latest got called out on the carpet after the Bay Citizen ran an article on September 15th entitled “BART Promises to Stop Faking the News”. The reporter noted that BART Board President Bob Franklin promised the embattled agency would stop trying to push fake news, referring to a clumsy media manipulation strategy hatched by former BART spokesman Lindon Johnson who had tried unsuccessfully to recruit loyal passengers to attend a press conference and read from a BART-friendly script he wrote.

Although he spent public funds on limos to ferry the loyal passengers, none showed up. Franklin said the agency decided to never do that again. However, Johnson’ s direct boss Jennifer Barton said it was not the first time the public agency had given loyal customers “talking points” to use with the news media.

Let’s hope BART turns a new leaf in the New Year.


Original column:

I find it ironic that BART, which continually cries poor mouth, last week gave commuters more than 65,000 vouchers for free round-trip rides to lure them to take transit to do their Christmas shopping.

Let’s take a look at what the hit was to BART’s budget. A ONE-way trip ride from Walnut Creek to Montgomery Street Station in San Francisco is $4.75, a ONE-way trip from Pittsburg/Bay Point to San Francisco is $5.95.

The vouchers were for ROUND-trip rides. Using the single fare rate, a round-trip voucher from Walnut Creek to Montgomery Street Station would be $9.50 ($9.50 times 65,000 is $61,750). A round-trip voucher from Pittsburg/Bay Point would be $11.90 ($11.90 times 65,000 is $77,350.)

I know that senior fares and clipper cards are cheaper than the above quoted rate, but that’s not the point. A taxpayer-subsidized transit system shouldn’t be acting like Santa Claus and doling out thousands of dollars in a vain hope to increase ridership.

The BART board of directors, which includes former Antioch mayor Joel Keller, should be ashamed of themselves.

2 Comments to “BART Should Be Ashamed of Ticket Giveaway – Revised”

  1. Allen Payton says:

    To be fair, the costs were probably not that high, as the tickets were only given out at select stations in Oakland and San Francisco and could only be used between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., last Saturday and Sunday. However, the tickets could probably be used to get riders to any station in the system, like last year’s promotional tickets could.

    It appears to have mainly worked to reduce the traffic congestion in those two cities for holiday shoppers.

    Below is the information about the promotion on BART’s website.

    Allen Payton

    “Promotional passes encourage holiday shoppers to skip traffic hassles

    Here’s a holiday tradition that would make even the Grinch grin: For the second year in a row, BART gave away passes for free rides to 65,000 customers. The passes were handed out this morning at seven stations: 19th Street in Oakland (where Director Robert Raburn helped give out the goodies), at Powell St., Montgomery St., Embarcadero, Civic Center, Downtown Berkeley and 12th St./ Oakland City Center.

    Each pass will be valid for two one-way rides on BART this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, December 10 and 11, from 9 am to 4 pm. The passes encourage holiday shoppers to skip traffic hassles and save their parking money by riding BART (parking at BART stations is free on weekends).”

  2. Woody says:

    Bart runs in the RED every year! And the state is pushing for a high speed train, that also be in the RED befor the first wheel turns.. Be careful when you VOTE. IT”s only your tax money

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