BART directors have approved a $1.5 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes spending for new rail cars, cleaner stations and other system improvements.
BART officials said the budget, which was approved last Thursday, assumes an average weekday ridership of about 404,000 trips, which is an increase of 3.1 percent compared to the average in the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.
BART board president Tom Radulovich said in a statement, "We are investing in programs and projects that will have the greatest benefit to our customers as BART begins its fifth decade of service to the Bay Area."
The budget directs $46 million in operating funds toward an initial order for 410 new rail cars, the first of which are scheduled to be in service in 2017.
The budget also puts aside $7.5 million from the upcoming January 2014 inflation-based fare increase to help pay for three important funding
needs: ordering additional rail cars for a larger fleet to accommodate increased ridership, a new train control system that will allow trains to run closer together and a facility to maintain the new fleet.
BART officials said they will spend another $7 million to replace existing train car seats and floors with easier-to-clean materials, to overhaul propulsion systems for a smoother ride and to upgrade heating and air conditioning systems for greater passenger comfort.
The BART board's vote to approve the budget comes amid contentious and slow-moving bargaining with unions that represent its employees. The transit agency's current contract with its employees expires on June 30.
The talks, which began on April 1, have moved so slowly that on Tuesday BART management asked for the assistance of a state mediator to try to speed up the negotiations.
Union spokesman Leo Ruiz said on Thursday that union negotiators are "surprised" that management called for a mediator this early in the process but said that the unions are willing to work with the mediator, with talks starting on Monday.
BART general manager Grace Crunican said at a news conference on Thursday that management can't afford to give large pay increases to employees because "our costs must be controlled" so BART can continue to spend money to buy more rail cars and make other improvements to its 40-year-old system.
Ruiz said management is only offering employees a wage increase of 1 percent for each of the next three years but union leaders believe that management can afford to give a larger increase.
He said the two sides remain far apart.
"They're on the South Pole and we're on the North Pole," he said.