With the transit system raising fares and facing serious financial obstacles, employees are collecting top salaries while receiving highly subsidized health care and contributing nothing to their pensions.
Sound familiar? Actually, we're not talking about BART this time. We're talking about AC Transit, where the labor contract with drivers, mechanics, janitors, clerks and purchasing agents also expired Sunday night.
The only thing saving the East Bay from a complete transportation meltdown is that the bus system drivers were still on the job Tuesday. But precarious negotiations could reach settlement or break down by Wednesday.
BART provides an average 400,000 trips a day, second highest in the Bay Area. AC Transit ranks third, at about 180,000 on a typical weekday, but on Monday, added buses to pick up some of the extra demand on the first day of the BART strike.
A shutdown of both systems would strand East Bay commuters. Which raises a key issue: Directors for the two transit agencies must make sure that they never end up with simultaneous contract expirations again.
It's bad enough that a strike by BART operators or AC Transit drivers can gridlock the region. But the possibility that the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has locals representing both sets of workers, could conduct concurrent strikes is unacceptable.
It puts management for both agencies at bargaining disadvantages, leaving them more vulnerable to threats of walkouts and facing greater political pressure to settle on terms unfavorable to riders and taxpayers.
While the two transit agencies operate different systems, their financial challenges and issues in their labor negotiations are similar.
BART must replace aging train cars and the control system, and faces billions of dollars of deferred maintenance. It also owes a $636 million debt for employees' pension and retiree health care benefits.
Meanwhile, salaries top transit agencies in the region and are among the highest in the nation. Employees also receive free pensions and family health care coverage for just $92 a month.
At AC Transit, fares have risen 20 percent in the past five years. Service has been trimmed. And the bus system faces a $293 million debt for its underfunded pension system, an amount equal to nearly 2½ years of base payroll.
Meanwhile, driver salaries rank in the top 10 percent in the nation while they also make no contributions to their pensions and, following the expiration of their contract Sunday, also pay nothing toward health insurance.
While much attention has focused on the fallout from the BART strike, the situation will be much worse if AC Transit negotiations fail, too. We don't think the public should ever be in such a precarious position again.