Bart to Riders: Whatever you do, don’t ride the bus (or other transit)!

26 Jun

As you no doubt have heard, BART’s negotiations with unions haven’t been going so well, and there’s a possibility that workers could strike as soon as next week. So BART issued a press release yesterday, explaining alternative options to its riders in the case of a strike, which makes complete sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the order in which they placed these recommendations. BART’s first two suggestions are to adjust work hours or telecommute, which is great advice if your boss will allow that. But for the rest of us, BART’s next suggestions are to carpool or to drive alternate routes that might not be as congested. Um, are they serious?

Way down at the botttom of the list, after recommending bicycling, they finally mention that there are other transit agencies in the Bay Area that serve a majority of their riders. Look, I’m all for bicycling, but I really can’t imagine that many people who take BART are traveling a short enough distance that biking would be a viable option. But for so many, other public transit agencies offer the best alternative if BART is shut down.

So why isn’t this recommendation at the top of BART’s list? I don’t think it’s because BART is evil and wants to congest our roads further and create more pollution. It’s more likely it’s because they’re terrified of losing riders to AC Transit, Caltrain, and other transit agencies that offer comparable service.

I didn’t live here at the time, but friends have told me that BART’s last strike in 1997 was when AC Transit’s transbay commuter service really took off. People switched to ACT, and many never switched back. And I can understand why – most of the transbay commuter buses are extremely comfortable and less crowded than BART. Also, there’s a much better chance that an ACT transbay bus stops within walking distance of your house, which means riders can ditch their cars and not have to pay for parking at a BART lot.

But beyond the transbay mess, there are a surprising amount of people who use BART to commute within the East Bay, and with ACT’s rapid lines, I would not be surprised if, in the case of a strike, BART riders made the switch to local ACT service and never switched back.

This is all very bad news for BART, which has been losing riders, but is it so bad that BART should essentially be discouraging its riders from riding the bus or using other public transit options? I think not. So my recommendation, if a strike happens, is to first look into other public transit options before hopping in your car.

10 Responses to “Bart to Riders: Whatever you do, don’t ride the bus (or other transit)!”

  1. david vartanoff June 26, 2009 at 8:56 am #

    You are spot on about Transbay AC Transit service. Their market share was withering prior to the 97 strike. Since then they have put more effort into the Transbay service including comfy buses and “filtering” drivers to discourage the surly ones from those routes .
    That said, there has been bad blood between the two agencies for decades. Way back, BART got AC to bend routes to service stations. Buses even had blue “to BART” light up signage. In the early 90’s that all was gone–routes were redrawn to make connections less convenient, with NO effort to coordinate schedules. In some instances this has spurred growth of private shuttles duplicating segments of an AC route.

    • Becks June 26, 2009 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks for the additional history David. But there are several AC Transit lines that converge on pretty much every BART station in ACT’s region so it seems like since then the routes have been redrawn to meet up with BART (or at least some of them). I actually can’t think of many ACT lines in Oakland or Berkeley that don’t meet up with at least one BART station.

  2. floribunda June 26, 2009 at 9:23 am #

    “most of the transbay commuter buses are extremely comfortable” — I have to disagree with you on that one! Those cushy dark green ones are comfortable, but you don’t get those all the time — and the other buses are miserable once you get on the freeway! I feel like I need a trip to the chiropractor every time I get off one!

    • Becks June 26, 2009 at 9:25 am #

      My understanding from a release from AC Transit many months ago was that the majority of the commuter buses are the cushy ones. But I know that a few of the lines don’t have any of them and other lines only have some. Maybe you just have bad luck?

  3. Andy K June 26, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    It is simply amazing that the various transit agencies in the Bay Area are so “competitive” – i. e. non cooperative. We, the tax payer and user, end up getting screwed. BART and ACT are really the tip of the ice burg when it comes to this – think Transbay Terminal/Caltrain vs. HSRA and SF.

  4. artemis June 26, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    My experience with the cushy buses has been that the commute-hour lines tend to have them, and the lines that run more regularly (F, NL, etc.) don’t always—presumably because they’re looping through the day and along longer routes, and thus are using more buses, whereas some of the commute-hour lines just do a couple of express runs morning and evening.

    Still, not putting Transbay buses front and center on that page irks me. I’m tempted to post a list of the routes and times—I actually much prefer Transbay to BART when I’m headed to or from places near a TB route, especially in the morning (for some reason the evening bus isn’t quite as speedy, though it’s often still a wash compared to waiting for BART…)

  5. Terryer June 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    511.org says “transit operators have very limited capability to expand service at this time…” I have to think AC is included in this. Maybe BART didn’t want to point us to services that are overcrowded already. http://511.org/bartdisruption/transit.asp

    • Becks June 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

      AC Transit’s buses do not run at full capacity as is. Also, they may be adding extra service. They’ll be posting more info on this if a strike happens.

  6. david vartanoff June 26, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    @ Becks, yes many AC routes go to BART stations. However, in my local case, both the Ashby Ave crosstown and the MLK route used to make turns so as to stop directly above Ashby BART. A small issue, but not a favor to riders.
    @ Terryer, I don’t expect AC to put on lots of extra service–in ’97 there was some buzz that AC’s union drivers were not interested in ‘breaking’ their union siblings’s strike.
    @ artemis indeed some TB routes are more equal than others. AC has inked a deal to get more comfy buses, BUT they will be VH’s so don’t get your hopes up–they haven’t been designed yet.

    Bottom line in my view we need an analog of the New York State Taylor Law–outlaws strikes by public employees. Short term maybe this will finally get telecommuting to a serious level on a long term basis saving tons of GHGs.

  7. Tony June 27, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    BART’s link to the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s homepage doesn’t work. Also, the maps on EBBC’s page are not readily accessible for the East Bay west of the hills, they are only sold through bike shops or from EBBC directly. It’s nice that BART gives bicycling as an option though.

    Personally, I prefer ACT’s Transbay service with a bike. I just stick my bike on the rack and have a seat, much more dignified than on BART, where I’m standing most of the time. Then there are stairs and elevators to deal with at stations versus a street level bus stop.

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