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Monday, October 21, 2013

BART Strike Isn't Really Hurting the Bay Area's Booming Economy

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:20 PM

click to enlarge NBD?
  • NBD?

Like a retired running back with bad knees, the Bay Area is not moving too well today.

Even a shut-in could tell you about the traffic -- and oh, such traffic. Every local media outlet is chock full of woeful tales from harried commuters, who have had to get up earlier to fight more traffic in order to get to work.

It's worse than a getaway Friday with major accidents on the bridge -- which is to say, as bad as it is for commuters, the economy is moving just fine.

That may sound unlikely, considering the Bay Area Council's words of warnings from over the summer.

The Bay Area's biggest business lobby -- whose board includes representatives from the area's biggest corporations, as well as BART General Manager Grace Crunican -- over the summer put out a number on how much the BART strike cost the Bay Area. Every day the workers are out, the region misses out on $73 million in "lost productivity," according to the Bay Area Council, which has been the most consistent in insisting workers take BART's contract offer and return to the trains.

Some $73 million a day sounds like an awful lot of money, and the figure is dutifully repeated on message boards and in the media as what the strike is "costing" us. But when you parse it a little further, the impact of this strike isn't so bad. Don't take our word for it -- take Moody's.

This strike is now in its fourth day, and could likely continue all week. That would make it the longest BART strike since the 1970s -- 1997's was six days long, and July's strike was four-and-a-half days.

Strikes that long "would likely have little measurable economic impact on the City of San Francisco or the region," Moody's wrote in a newsletter issued in late August. "Significant economic losses would only result if the strike were prolonged."

That'll come as little balm to the likes of shopkeepers in Glen Park, which saw business down as much as 50 percent, according to KCBS.

But it should make the Council less than furious: the $73 million a day is an estimate on "lost productivity," caused by workers arriving late or otherwise spending time commuting when they could be working. And $73 million, it turns out, is about one-tenth of 1 percent of what the Bay Area produces in a year.

The Bay Area's annual gross domestic product is "over $550 billion," a figure that could grow even higher, thanks to boons like a Twitter IPO.

Not to downplay the $73 million figure. "I wouldn't call that a small number," said Rufus Jeffris, the Council's spokesman, when we asked him about it a few weeks ago.

If the strike were to last for a full year, the "economic impact" -- always a fuzzy number; just ask the America's Cup -- could stretch to $26 billion, by that same math.

A much-bigger chunk, certainly, but nothing that could unhinge BART-independent Silicon Valley's surge to the top. Techies will indeed complain, but they'll do so all the way to the bank.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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