Bay Area public transit operators could do more to avert further service cuts and fare increases by merging or sharing some of their administration work, which according to a report by the region's transportation commission, they spend more on than transit agencies elsewhere.
The eight largest public transit operators in the Bay Area spend 20 percent of their combined $2 billion annual budgets on administration, compared to 15 percent by eight large urban transit systems in New York, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reported.
The administrative costs are high in the Bay Area in part because it has 28 different transit operators with different boards, managers, purchasing agents, bus purchase specifications, maintenance yards and marketing specialists.
"Local control can be expensive," said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which funds but does not operate transit systems. "We think there are ways to save money without giving up that local control."
If the eight Bay Area agencies -- including BART, AC Transit, SamTrans and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority -- cut their average administration costs to the 15 percent average among agencies elsewhere, it would amount to a $100 million savings per year.
The report did not attempt to estimate potential savings, Rentschler said, because administration staffing and costs are intricately tied into many local decisions about how the systems operate.
The commission, however, plans later this year to make some cost saving recommendations.
The commission also is looking into how possible changes in employee work rules could save money for transit districts.
Using part-time bus drivers to work peak commute hours in the morning and evening rush hour could cuts costs, but many transit districts have union contract rules that discourage or bar such practices, commission representatives said.
In its most recent contract settlement with unionized employees, BART made rule changes aimed at reducing millions of dollars in overtime and other labor costs.
The commission issued the cost saving report earlier this month as part of its Transit Sustainability Project, which aims to maximize transit service.
Past talks about Bay Area consolidations or mergers were shot down by concerns over political turf.
BART Board President Bob Franklin said that the time may be ripe to consider sharing without merging the agencies.
He suggested that transit agencies might jointly shop for workers' health care insurance to save money. Smaller agencies might contract out some work to larger ones, he added.
"I think economic necessity is making us look at some sharing to reduce costs," Franklin said.
Sharing administrative work, he said, could be a first step in building trust between transit agencies so that one day they could discuss agency mergers.