How Does BART Manage to Spend $15,000 Per Car on 'Deep Cleaning'?

Categories: Public Transit
This morning, the Chronicle ran an eye-catching little story about BART. Its synopsis: Half of the $4.5 million allotted for temporary fare rollbacks has been siphoned off into BART directors' "pet projects" -- including an astounding $750,000 to "deep clean" 50 train cars. That's $15,000 a car, yes. 

And yet, as a "Them Politicians Been Pilferin' My Money!" story, this one doesn't quite work.

First of all, the notion of a temporary fare rollback was always a blatantly transparent attempt by BART Commissioners up for re-election to pander to voters. Second, even before the money was siphoned out, the savings to commuters was minimal; in April we calculated that a daily Oakland to San Francisco rider would save about a buck a week for the rollback's several-month lifespan. Third, these "pet projects" were actually all generated by BART staff. And, finally, the term "deep-cleaning" is misleading. BART will actually be replacing the seats in 51 train cars.

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Breaking down the numbers, BART will spend some $688,500 to purchase stuffing and covers for 3,468 seats (that comes out to about $198 for each double seat). The work will be undertaken by BART's own unionized workforce. On top of the $688,500 for parts and labor, around $61,500 will be tied up in disposing of the soiled seat covers and stuffing; dry-cleaning seat covers that are un-nauseating enough to avoid the dumpster; and actual "cleaning" of the cars. Incidentally, the seat replacement project is eight years overdue; seats are only expected to last two years and these are all a decade old.

It warrants mentioning, however, that while you may no longer be sitting in filth, you will still be standing in it. The seat replacement project is wholly separate from carpet replacement. Stimulus funds have been allocated toward replacing those mangy carpets -- but the time required to do so makes it difficult to rip out the flooring while keeping an adequate number of trains in service.

San Francisco-area BART Commissioner Tom Radulovich said that "deep-cleaning" was a better use of surplus funds than a drop-in-the-bucket, temporary fare rollback -- something he said he has not received one e-mail of support for from the riding public (by the way -- San Franciscans using fast passes to ride BART won't save a cent via the rollbacks).

Radulovich reiterated what he told us in April, however -- clean seats are nice, but replenishing BART's empty reserve fund or applying the $4.5 million toward the system's $7 billion predicted shortfall over the next several decades would be nicer. The fare rollback "Is just pandering the public," he says. "But the public is too smart for it."

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