BART is ramping up a potentially lucrative side business that caters to motorists.
The BART Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to start offering long-term parking at four of its Peninsula stations for travelers using San Francisco International Airport. The program needs final approval from the Federal Transit Administration before it can get started. BART officials hope to get the green light this summer.
At $6 a day, the price is set to beat other parking lot operators that serve SFO. The agency also hopes the program will lure additional riders to its Peninsula route.
"One of our goals is to build ridership," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
The Peninsula BART extension, which was completed four years ago, serves Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae and SFO. Original estimates put daily ridership on the route at 50,000, but the actual number has been closer to 30,000, meaning less fare-box revenue for BART.
BART officials hope to make at least $332,000 a year off the program -- and potentially much more -- once an outside vendor is paid $1 a day per car to operate it. The $332,000 figure is based on 30 percent of the spaces being filled.
Initially, BART hopes to offer 500 spaces -- 100 each at the Colma, South San Francisco and San Bruno stations, and 200 at the Millbrae Station. The Daly City Station lot, already operating at near-capacity, would not be part of the airport parking program.
The spaces reserved for airport parking will only be available until 10 a.m. After that they will be put up for grabs for general use.
The number of spaces available for long-term parking will vary month by month. If the demand for parking by regular commuters goes up, the number of spaces offered to airport users would go down.
"The daily riders need to be our priority, rather than the people who park two weeks while they go to Hawaii," said BART Director Tom Radulovich.
A monthly survey will be conducted to monitor usage at the BART parking lots.
The regional rail agency, which carries about 350,000 passengers a day, has been offering long-term parking at several East Bay station lots since 2004 for travelers using Oakland International Airport. That program, which charges $5 a day for parking, has generated more than $735,000 since it began, officials report.
Long-term lots around the San Francisco airport generally charge $12 or more a day. Some charge less, some considerably more.
While the BART lots will be cheaper, in most cases, travelers will have to factor in the cost to ride BART. The round-trip cost from Colma to SFO, for example, is $8.70. The fare costs multiply with each additional person traveling in the party -- as opposed to the per-vehicle cost of other parking lots.
Cabs, airport vans and hitching a ride from an accommodating friend or relative are other popular alternatives for people getting to and from the airport.
There was little public opposition to the BART airport parking plan, although the city of South San Francisco raised objections, focusing on the potential scenario that airport parkers would push daily commuters who drive to the BART station into surrounding neighborhoods.
BART officials reiterated, however, that they have no desire to take parking away from regular commuters but instead want to make use of surplus parking. Officials say hundreds of spaces go unused every day.
Behind the scenes, cities and private parking lot operators have grumbled that the new competition would lead to lost revenue. South San Francisco, for instance, makes more than $1 million a year from taxes levied on the parking enterprises within its boundaries. San Bruno expects to make about $200,000 this year in tax revenue from SkyPark, the only such business in that city serving airport users.
"Any competition is cause for concern,'' San Bruno Finance Director Jim O'Leary said.
In San Bruno, $200,000 is enough to pay the annual salary and benefits for 11/2 police officers, O'Leary said.
BART, as a government agency, doesn't have to pay taxes on the money it makes from parking.
If approved, how BART airport program will work
Step 1: Motorists will go to BART's Web site, www.bart.gov, select link to airport/long-term parking and select the desired station and proposed dates.
Step 2: A computerized parking reservation program will determine space availability. If no spaces are available at the preferred station, another station will be recommended.
Step 3: If long-term parking is available, the traveler will prepay by credit card and then print the permit along with instructions on where to park and how to display the permit. Permit holders will be guaranteed a space in the designated lot until 10 a.m.
Step 4: BART police patrolling the lots will make sure the permit is valid.