Several BART directors said yesterday that the transit agency should consider temporarily decreasing fares in the wake of its improving fiscal condition.
BART staff members estimated in February that the agency would face a $14 million budget deficit or the fiscal year that begins in July, but general manager Dorothy Dugger said Monday that the deficit is now projected to be $10 million thanks to a $26 million infusion of state funding.
And staff members said at Thursday's board meeting that BART could actually finish fiscal 2011 with a surplus of several million dollars if all goes well.
BART director Joel Keller said, "We should consider a one-time reduction that's responsible and affordable as a way of saying thank you to our riders."
However, he said, "I know it can't be permanent."
Noting criticism that he and several other directors may be considering fare reductions only because they're up for re-election this year, Keller said the fare reduction could be delayed until Jan. 1 "so it takes it out of the political arena this year."
In an apparent slip of the tongue, board president James Fang, who also is up for re-election, said he wants to reduce fares "to express our appreciation to our voters, I mean our riders."
Last July, BART raised fares 6.1 percent to help balance its budget. BART spokesman Linton Johnson said Dugger "would feel more comfortable rolling back fares if all of our other fiscal obligations were met," noting that the transit agency has many capital needs.
However, Johnson said it ultimately will be up to the board to decide whether to reduce fares for a short period, such as six months. BART's finance committee will meet on Monday to discuss the agency's proposed $582 million fiscal 2011 preliminary operating budget and consider decreasing fares.
There will be a public hearing on the budget on May 27 and BART directors are scheduled to adopt the budget on June 10.