April 25--BART's new ride to Oakland International Airport, due to open in time to ferry travelers to and from their holiday flights, could cost passengers an extra $6 a trip and the transit agency nearly $8 million a year.
The 3.2-mile Oakland Airport Connector, an automated rail line, will link the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART Station with the airport by a mostly elevated line that travels in the median on Hegenberger Road. It will replace AirBART, a shuttle bus that follows a similar route to and from the Bay Area's second-largest airport.
With construction on the $484 million project nearing completion, and testing of trains, computers and equipment under way, BART officials are examining what it will cost to operate the driverless, cable-pulled connection -- and how much airport-bound passengers should pay for a ride.
A financial analysis presented to the BART Board of Directors on Thursday estimates the cost of running the system at $11 million in the budget year that begins July 1 and $13.5 million in the following fiscal year, which ends in 2016. Revenue from fares -- depending on how much is charged -- will range from $3.1 million to $4.2 million in the first, partial year, and from $6.5 million to $7.9 million the next year.
That means BART will have to cover anywhere from $6.8 million to $7.9 million the first year and $5.6 million to $7 million the second from its already tight budget.
BART's staff has not recommended a one-way fare but has outlined scenarios for what it calls "surcharges" of $3, $4, $5 and $6. It proposes to keep the discounted fare for airport workers at $2. BART levies a $4 surcharge on fares to and from San Francisco International Airport.
The BART board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on airport connector fares on May 22 and set the price of a ride on June 12.
When the Oakland Airport link opens -- BART officials have not set a date or even a month -- transit riders will be able to walk to the south end of the Coliseum station platform; ascend stairs, an elevator or an escalator to the connector station; and climb aboard a train that's essentially a modernized cable car. Trains scheduled to arrive every four minutes will haul them to a station in the airport parking lot, a short walk from the two terminals, in less than 15 minutes.
Critics of the Oakland Airport Connector, including several transit advocacy and social justice groups, fought the project, claiming that it was too costly and would benefit too few people, and that the money could be better used elsewhere. Although they lost that battle, BART's financial report gives them a chance not only to resurrect their arguments -- and say, "We told you so" -- but also to campaign for higher fares.
Jeff Hobson, deputy director for TransForm, a transit advocacy coalition that fought the connector and suggested instead an improved bus link, said the project is proving to be a poor investment that will steal money from much-needed BART projects, including starting the BART Metro venture designed to cut crowding and speed travel; repairing wrecked railcars; replacing aging computer servers; and hiring people to lobby for more government funding. Those examples come from a BART list of things it would like to include in next year's budget but can't afford.
"These are things we'd like to see BART do," Hobson said.
To minimize the financial impact of the airport connection, BART should set fares to collect as much revenue as possible, he said.
"We think BART should set the Oakland Airport Connector fare at no lower than $6 (each way) and should look at an even higher fare," he said.
According to the financial report, the airport link's daily ridership would be affected only slightly by fare levels. At $4, it projects, an estimated 3,350 people per day will take trips during the first full year of operation, compared with 3,290 at $5 and 3,250 at $6.
BART officials say their ridership estimates are conservative and that they expect the connector to draw more passengers to take their transit system to the airport.
Luna Salaver, a BART spokeswoman, said: "We believe there is still going to be increased ridership to the airport because the connection will provide faster, more reliable service than the bus."
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan
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