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BART Strike Q&A: How Do Labor & Fares Compare

BART ranks third among top U.S. train systems in terms of moving passengers, with labor costs and fares that compare favorably. Click on the graphics for details.

The 10 largest train systems. BART ranks third. Click on the purple for details.
The 10 largest train systems. BART ranks third. Click on the purple for details.

(Reporting by Community Editor Tom Abate.)

As Bay Area residents begin the Fourth of July holiday, the BART strike is ending its third day.

Labor and management are talking but an end to the walkout is not yet in sight. 

How much the walkout is costing commuters in aggravation is difficult to calculate. But the Bay Area Council Economic Institute has estimated that the walkout is costing the regional economy $73 million a day.

While negotiators continue working to resolve differences between the two sides, Patch answered some questions that may be on reader’s minds.

Could BART workers be replaced such as occurred in 1981 when Ronald Reagan fired striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization?

No, says Stanford Law Professor and labor expert William B. Gould IV.

Why not?

The circumstances are different. Federal law prohibited the air traffic controllers from striking. By contrast unionized BART workers have a right to strike under state and federal law.

Can anything be done if bargaining fails?

Gov. Brown could set the wheels in motion to issue a 60-day injunction against the strike and order the workers back while bargaining continued.

Is BART more expensive than other transit systems? How do wages compare? And what about the fares we pay?

To answer such questions we must compare apples to apples. The Federal Transit Administration collects data from the largest transit agencies. The American Public Transport Association helped Patch compute transit costs using the industry’s basic unit of comparison, the passenger mile.

What is a passenger mile and how is it used?

Transit systems move passengers. If you know how much it costs each system to move one passenger one mile you have an apples-to-apples comparison. BART ranks third, behind New York City and Washington, D.C., in the total number of passenger miles delivered per year (the aggregate of how far all of its passengers travelled in one year). The map shows breakdowns by city. Click on the purple exclamation point for details.

How does BART compare in terms of labor costs?

BART is at the low end of the scale measured in terms of passenger miles. BART pays 28 cents in wages, fringes and benefits to move one passenger one mile. Los Angeles has the lowest labor costs at 23 cents per passenger mile. Note that this measure counts every worker on the payroll, management and union. 

How about BART fares?

We’re toward the lower middle of the top 10 transit systems. BART passengers pay a 24 cent fare, on average, to move one mile. The lowest fares are in Atlanta, where ticket holders pay 13 cents to go 5,280 feet. Train riders in the nation’s capital pay the highest average fare per mile at 35 cents.

But BART feels so expensive. Why is that?

Maybe it's because our trips are longer. The average BART rider goes 13 miles before stepping off a train. That’s nearly twice as far as riders go in Miami-Dade, which ranks second in average trip length.

Paul Miller July 04, 2013 at 11:02 PM
I too feel that labor cost per mile is perhaps only indicative perhaps of efficiency and not really the wage market as I assume wages are by the hour and pay is not by the mile. No account in the story about what percentage of operating expenses are covered by fare revenue compared to other transit systems. Larry, your idea of selling the system would not work because fares do not pay for the cost. BART could not exist without our tax monies. Public Rapid transit is a good person and economic investment. As A 65+ I cannot understand subsidizing fares for me or others based on age and other such practices
An\on July 04, 2013 at 11:31 PM
Ken: Like Reagan said, “There you go changing the subject again.” Cindy: It seems you figured out why the Republican Party in Wisconsin outlawed public employee unions. The only people with skin in the game are the tax paying public. The State legislators depend on union money to get elected and when the union wants something they get it……in a never-ending cycle of screwing the people. Paul: Several responses: 1) Cost per mile is a standard “stockholder’s” comparison measure in transportation no matter if it’s air, rail, truck or ship. 2) The reason 65+ get a fare break is because they are often retired and on fixed incomes unlike those active in the workplace who, presumably, can change jobs, get a second job, etc. In my opinion it’s a good social investment. 3) Taxpayer dollars flow to BART from the federal government and from property taxes. Everyone --companies, property owners, renters – everyone pays into BART. Some of the federal money comes from the Highway Trust fund (gas tax), some comes from income tax, but not all federal Highway Trust funds flow back to the states in the same proportion that they are taken nationally. Congress passes a highway funding bill every few years. To All: http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/opinions/2013-07-03/editorial-get-back-to-work/1773689.html
Bennett July 05, 2013 at 04:31 AM
Labor costs per passenger-mile? Why did you waste our time with this uselessness?
April July 05, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Wage Freeze Now! For workers and the managers . These charts are ridiculous and the stats are apples to oranges. More corporate bs. Ride the ferry, ride the newer private companies that have those luxury buses. Bauer is a good one.
Jasper Stein July 07, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Where is BART, I see San Francisco Transit but not Bart. the only thing San Francisco about BART is a few stations. I am tired of San Francisco being the tail that wags the dog. It is not even the largest City in the Bay Area, San Jose is by a large margin?????

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