BART Could Avoid Massive Layoffs and Toll Hikes With Retirement Plans

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BART riders have most likely avoided station closures and weekend shutdowns, but the agency could lose up to 40% of its staff due to early retirement as economic struggles continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, BART’s board of directors will vote on a retirement incentive plan that could make as many as 40% of its workforce to separate themselves from the company. The decision is being deliberated to avoid forceful layoffs and toll hikes. However, officials believe that a much smaller percentage of their employees would accept the buyout.

The agency’s staff will also inform the board on Thursday of the service changes that would take effect in March. The revisions would remove some round-trip commute trains and curtail the number of Saturday routes similar to those during Sundays. The changes also protect the agency from shutting down weekend commutes or closing off stations.

The fewer number of services and lessened workload would need 461 fewer employees. Spokeswoman Alicia Trost said that if not enough staff accept the buyout and other employees cannot be trained to fill crucial positions, the agency could still move forward with layoffs to maintain their financial security.

BART had experienced a massive 87% reduction in ridership since the beginning of the pandemic, which has caused a staggering $33 million deficit this fiscal year. It also faces up to $177 million by next year once federal funds are all used up. Similarly, bus, ferry, and train operators across the Bay Area are suffering the same problems.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District voted last week to layoff 146 workers, the majority of whom are bus drivers, starting in January, which would mark the first mass layoff in the history of a local transit agency, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The deliberation comes after West Oakland BART station is set to launch a massive housing project two weeks ago. The program aims to provide affordable housing near public transportation.

BART has begun to prioritize building residential homes at its stations, giving momentum to the new housing program. The agency called the concept “transit-oriented development” and is set to provide an increased ridership at the cost of parking space.

BART General Manager Bob Powers said that the agency’s Board of Directors approved of the project in June. He added that transit-oriented development would provide critical development to the future of the Bay Area. Powers said the project could also support the people whose homes are embedded in their stations, Mass Transit Mag reported.

The entire housing program would cost BART about $690 million in development costs. The project combines both residential and commercial development as the agency hopes to increase ridership and revenue. It would also promote reverse commutes and revitalize the economy in the region.

BART’s plan also incorporated community advise to ensure that the entire project reflects that need and desires of the people it would serve. The finished project would replace up to 451 parking spaces but would replace them with 400 new space parking garages.

The massive development includes plazas, bike lanes, pedestrian walkways bridging the public to the BART station, and several other features, Biz Journals reported.

Several union leaders expressed their gratitude to BART for keeping their employees during the recession and that they were open to providing retirements.

BART’s retirement plans would allow employees above 50 or 52 years old, depending on their classification, who have at least five years of experience to apply. The incentive program would give applicants one week of base pay for every full year of service they rendered, with a maximum of 20 years.

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