Entitled Transit Stooges Blackmail for BART


“We are not asking, we are demanding that Governor Newsom allocate $5 billion to public transit,” said Brett Vertocci, a protestor who was blocking rush-hour traffic in San Francisco. “We need the state to step up so that we don’t have to cancel bus lines, so we don’t lose BART weekend service,” Vertocci continued. “Also so we don’t create huge traffic jams in these intersections,” he ominously added.

“Gavin Newsom is killing transit”? No, but maybe the lack of ridership is killing it. But in that case, why not let it die?

How is maintaining BART weekend service going to prevent huge rush-hour traffic jams? Apparently because unless the state forks over $5 billion, people like Vertocci will continue to block rush-hour traffic. In other words, they are blackmailing the state.

What will happen if the state doesn’t come up with the money? At last count, BART was carrying 40 percent of pre-pandemic riders. In 2019, transit fares covered 72 percent of BART’s operating costs. With ridership down by 60 percent, BART will have to cut service by 29 percent. BART will still be operating 71 percent as many trains to carry just 40 percent as many passengers. The real problem is not that service would be cut, but that existing subsidies would continue despite the lower ridership.

Do people like Vertocci realize that they are just stooges who are supporting BART’s unaccountable bureaucracy? It is quite possible that they do. I can’t find anyone named Brett Vertocci on line other than in this story, which makes me wonder if he or some of the other protestors are associated with transit unions or transit contractors. Or maybe they are just useful idiots.

If they are genuine transit riders, then the question is: if transit is so important to them, why aren’t they willing to pay more of the cost? BART could close its funding gap if it increased fares by 150 percent without losing any riders. Does anyone think that the average BART rider, who tends to have higher than average incomes, would be willing to pay 150 percent greater fares? If so, then BART doesn’t need a bailout. If not, then why should people who don’t ride it be forced to pay the costs?

(As I wrote the above paragraph last Friday, the BART board of directors was approving a 5.5 percent fare increase — not to make up the shortfall but to persuade legislators in Sacramento that the agency was “doing whatever we can to increase our income.” Of course, they did so despite fears that the increase would turn away more riders and despite the fact that the real problem is not low fares but high expenses.)

One of the dangers of subsidizing anything is that those who are subsidized quickly feel entitled to their subsidies. In transit’s case, all of the logical justifications for subsidies are gone and the only argument for them is temper tantrums like the one expressed by Vertocci and his followers last week.

Update: Apparently, the blackmail worked at least partially, as Governor Newsom and legislative leaders have agreed to give transit $2 billion that includes $1.1 billion for BART. This $2 billion was originally supposed to be for transit capital improvements that Newsom had cut from the state budget. The deal restores them to the budget and allows the transit agencies to use the money for operating costs.

This piece first appeared at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: screenshot from the video.

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Downward spiral

continues in the once-reigning Bay Area?