Monday, March 05, 2007

BART, MTC take SFO decisions without giving the public a chance to comment

An injustice was inflicted on BART riders during the past two weeks. BART is now wholly responsible for any operating deficits incurred by the BART extension to SFO and Millbrae. This line has been losing perhaps $10 million a year. SamTrans is now on the hook to pay millions to BART, but all the news accounts are unclear or at best confusing on exactly when and how the line will ever make money. One recent story implied that the line will never make money since nearly no public transit line ever runs in the black. By my estimate, the SamTrans payments and other outside funding won't fill the deficit after several years of lump sum payments have been exhausted. Thoughts that BART will be able to reconfigure service to run a profit are just that, thoughts, with no detailed financial analysis.

But that's not the end of the injustice. The travesty was that the BART board, and the MTC board which also had to approve the deal, never called for public comment before the crucial votes were taken, on Feb. 22, 2007 and Feb. 28, 2007 respectively. I know, because at both meetings, I submitted a speaker request card, and at both meetings, the chair failed to recognize me, and no other board members or staff held up the votes in question to allow my comment.

I reacted differently to the two lapses in procedure. At the BART meeting, where I've been an occasional regular, I was pretty much in shock after the board's gaffe, and when after a few minutes the board realized their error, they offered to listen to my comment and then vote again. You can hear the audio of this BART board meeting, up to and beyond this vote, here. When this offer was extended to me, I remarked, "What's the point?" Then I stopped my recording and left the meeting.

But when the MTC treated me the same way on Feb. 28, six days later, I decided to stick around and let them know what I thought about it. The audio of this meeting can be found on this page. They take up the matter -- before anyone in the audience could possibly interject -- starting at 27:10, and my comments take place -- after the vote -- at 39:45. (After I left the meeting, MTC did rescind the earlier vote and took it again, but the vote was identical to the first vote.)

When you think about all the relatively trivial things at these kinds of meetings that prompt a public hearing, much less adequate opportunity for public comment, the fact that this hugely important decision gets taken without hearing any public comment is especially deplorable.