A Special Kind of Stupid

In recent news it was reported that BART is losing somewhere between $15 million and $25 million per year due to riders who intentionally evade paying fares—“cheaters.” In one report on KTVU, reporter Amber Lee interviewed one of the cheaters—a young female college student—who admitted, on camera, that she rode BART regularly (daily) without paying. With a sheepish grin she remarked, “No, I don’t feel bad about it because, for one, I need to get where I need to go.” She further excused her theft habit by explaining that she didn’t have enough money for the fare because she didn’t have a job.

Later in the KTVU report, BART Director Bevan Dufty said with a smile (that was oddly similar to the college student’s) that “fixes” for the problem could take a “little while” because “BART is not as fast moving as our trains are…”   

Let’s put this admission into the proper perspective for a moment. While the bulk of BART operations are funded by riders’ fares, about 25% of operations rely upon taxpayer dollars. Add to this the billions in additional taxpayer funding for expansion and improvement projects and it’s clear, whether you ride BART or not, we are paying a lot for this transit system. This past November alone, Bay Area residents agreed to an additional $3.5 billion dollars in sales taxes to fund improvements to the system.

Now for a little more perspective, let’s think about how long BART has been in operation. I believe this coming September will mark its 45th year. Even assuming that those “cheater losses” were considerably less in previous years, the executives at BART just told us that due to their incompetence, at a minimum, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have essentially been “flushed.”

Is it just me, or does this strike you as just plain stupid? Apparently these losses don’t impact Mr.Dufty’s take-home pay, nor does it affect the compensation of BART management. But it ought to. If BART was operated without the “welfare” benefit of taxpayer dollars (like a business) this kind of operational “oversight” would have been handled in year one.

The sad fact is, when it comes to so many taxpayer-supported agencies, programs, and services like BART, proper accountability and fiscal responsibility are generally after-thoughts at best. And as stupid as all this might seem, there is apparently a special kind of stupid in California these days—it’s those who continue voting “yes” for tax increases that continue to prop up incompetent, misguided services like BART.