It's hard to imagine how BART directors will ever trim benefit excesses if they can't lead by example.
Consider the free lifetime train passes for directors, their spouses and dependent children. That's right: While we pay to board, current and former directors and their families ride BART gratis for life, sticking us with the tab.
OK, maybe there's a policy argument for free passes for current BART directors. Maybe it will encourage them to ride the system so they experience the dirty seats, packed cars, screeching wheels, surly agents and train delays like the rest of us.
But they should also experience the pinch in the pocketbook. As for including their spouses and dependents, that's just a perk, plain and simple. There's no excuse for it.
It gets worse. After directors leave the board, they get the same deal for the rest of their lives. And, yes, that extends to their families.
Not surprisingly, BART employees, some of the best compensated transit workers in the nation, get a similar lifetime family deal if they retire from the system after just five years on the job. It's part of the contract approved by, of course, BART directors.
As Denis Cuff reported last year, BART forgoes more than $2.1 million a year for the free rides, $741,000 of it for family members. More than 15,000 people have passes.
Although other Bay Area transit agencies offer free-ride programs to their workers, BART's is among the most generous. Moreover, of seven Bay Area transit operators surveyed, only BART extends the lifetime benefit to board members or their families.
It's against that backdrop that BART board President Joel Keller recently proposed what can at best be characterized as a tweak: Current directors would continue receiving the free passes for them and their families now and when they leave. Future directors would be able to keep the benefit after they leave the board only if they serve 10 years.
Now there was a politically gutsy proposal. Stick it to the next folks, but keep it for yourself.
Instead, directors decided to reduce the service requirement to eight years but apply it to current members too. Of course, most already meet that threshold. Three board members -- Rebecca Saltzman, Robert Rayburn and Zakhary Mallett -- will have to win election to second terms to qualify.
"I wanted reform, and that's what we got," Keller said. Reform? It gives new meaning to incrementalism. Then he added, "If there's a majority that wants to get rid of it, I'm very comfortable with it."
If he meant that, he should have proposed it.