When BART reaches capacity, Oaklanders will be the first to suffer

30 Oct

For anyone who commutes between Oakland and San Francisco, I’m guessing this has been a bit of a chaotic week. And at some point, if not every day during the closure, you probably took BART across the Bay. And I have no doubt that it was beyond crowded in the stations and on the trains. I heard from several people who had to let a couple trains pass by before finding a train that had room, during the morning and evening commute.

But this was an emergency. The Bay Bridge had to be repaired immediately, and though it was probably very stressful to deal with the chaos at BART, there was probably a comforting thought at the back of your head during this experience – “It will soon be over.” You figured that once the bridge was fixed, BART would go back to a “normal” level of ridership – morning transbay ridership would go back to 50,000 instead of nearly 80,000. You’d be able to relax at the station and hop on the first train that arrived. If you were lucky, you might even find somewhere to sit.

For the next few years, these assumptions will hold, but during these record-breaking ridership days, it’s a good opportunity to remember what BART ridership was like before the economy tanked (or even as the economy started tanking) and what it will likely be like as again as the economy recovers.

So try to think back to 2008. BART was crowded everyday during the commute hours. I remember this time well – at one point I stopped taking BART if I could avoid it at all during commute hours because of how uncomfortable it was. I started taking a bus if that was at all an option. It started to become such a problem that BART held special meetings on the issue and talked about possible ways to deal with the capacity problem. As recently as September 2008, they started floating the idea of congestion pricing – charging more at peak hours to encourage riders to change work schedules and to ease congestion during commute hours.

But then the economy tanked, and BART’s ridership dropped along with it. Without jobs to get to, people weren’t flooding the BART system during commute hours. And it seems that most people forgot the capacity crisis that was only narrowly averted by the onset of the recession.

This crisis has not been averted entirely though. As Daniel at 21st Century Urban Solutions explains:

The overcrowding this week is not a freak occurrence; rather, it is a preview for what Bart will regularly face 10 years (or less?) down the road.  Population growth, climate change, peak oil, and traffic congestion are not simply going to go away, and until Bart/MTC can find the $10 billion that it’s going to take to build a second tube (probably in the next 50 years), Bart needs to invest in ways to maximize the efficiency of its current system through better station design, vehicle layout, parking management, transit and bicycle access, and train control.  We need to reinvest in Bart for a sustainable future.

Daniel is exactly right. The problem is that the BART Board has been so focused on geographical expansion of the system, that it has neglected the most urgent capital need – expanding transbay capacity. And these extensions, particularly BART to San Jose, are only going to exacerbate the problem. As new riders from the San Jose corridor put increasing pressure on the transbay tube and as the economy recovers, the tube and trains will reach capacity.

And who is this going to effect most? Oakland riders.

You might have noticed this week that news articles talked about riders at West Oakland having to wait for an uncrowded train, but you probably never read that about an Orinda or Pleasanton rider. Suburban riders will be able to catch a train (and probably a seat) every morning, while Oaklanders will barely squeeze in or have to pass up trains all together.

The good news is that something can be done. Ideally, BART would scrap some of its extensions and build another transbay tube. But that’s probably not going to happen, until we replace nearly every current BART Board member.

The other option to increase capacity is to get a new train set and to focus on increased train capacity. BART has been working on this – the problem is that the project is not fully funded and hasn’t seemed to be a funding priority of BART.

Well it sure sounds like Oakland’s screwed then (maybe dto510 was right after all), but there’s another hope, which might be our best one. Besides BART, there’s another excellent way to cross the Bay via transit – AC Transit’s transbay buses. I must admit that I’ve never ridden the commuter transbay buses, but I’ve heard they’re very comfortable, and they even have wi-fi. So as BART reaches capacity, AC Transit will increasingly be a place to turn to get across the Bay, unless of course you’ve enjoyed the Manhattan like conditions this week on BART.

20 Responses to “When BART reaches capacity, Oaklanders will be the first to suffer”

  1. Genie October 30, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    This is both a good warning, but also a good reminder that the only way across the Bay is not BART…more people probably need to hear that…

  2. Gene October 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    I’ve only ridden the transbay buses a couple of times. Sometimes it’s the newer buses with wi-fi, additional bike storage below, etc. Sometimes it’s the older buses with a rack for two bikes on the front, and no wi-fi. But it’s a great way across the bay, especially if you don’t live near a BART station but do live near one of the transbay routes or within a transfer of one.

  3. Daniel October 30, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    The transbay routes would present a more realistic alternative to a second tube if some lines were upgrades to BRT (something AC Transit has already been talking about for the NL). Stop upgrades, signal priority, and a dedicated transit/carpool lane on the Bay Bridge would probably only cost a few hundred million and could extend service to a much wider area. Combined with a new Transbay Terminal, a relatively small but bold investment could significantly increase the mode share of AC Transit commuter buses and buy Bart another 20 years worth of capacity.

    • Becks October 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm #

      That’s a great idea, and I didn’t know that AC Transit is talking about that for the NL.

      • Daniel October 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm #


        They’ve been talking about it for a while with MTC, they’ve just been so broke and tied up with the Telegraph-International corridor that I don’t think they ever completed the study that was supposed to be done in 2006…

        • Becks October 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

          Thanks for the link. I have heard about the Grand MacArthur BRT concept (although it really does seem to just be a concept that unfortunately won’t happen anytime soon) – I just hadn’t realized there were any plans to make BRT happen on the bridge as well.

        • dto510 October 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

          Both RM2 and Measure B (ACTIA) have money for BRT on the NL corridor. Of course, both sources of funding are tapped out because of the OAC….

  4. Max Allstadt October 30, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    BART should just hire a bunch of dudes in white gloves to shove everybody into the train at rush-hour. It works for the Japanese.

  5. Navigator October 30, 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Oakland really needs to promote itself as an alternative to corporations who put their headquarters in San Francisco. The East Bay has by far the greater population with 2.5 million residents compared to about 1 million in SF and the Peninsula. Why are people forced to go over bridges and under tunnels under the Bay in earthquake country, when Oakland has plenty of room to grow? As a region this is insanity. Oakland should be promoting itself as a green, safe, and convenient alternative to bridge dependent downtown SF. I cant believe people in the East Bay would rather cross a bridge to work in a high rise built on landfill than work closer to home and not have to cross the Bay.

    Oakland should be running commercials starting with “Are you tired of Bay Bridge hassles?” and “Are you tired of paying an exorbitant amount for daily parking? Come work in convenient, affordable, safe, and sunny downtown Oakland.” And yes, crime stats show that downtown Oakland IS safer than downtown SF.

    • Becks October 30, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

      This argument is absurd. Of course most Oaklanders would rather work in Oakland, but you can only be so picky. Most of my jobs have thankfully been in the East Bay, but a couple jobs I was very interested in were in San Francisco, and so I of course took them.

  6. Navigator October 30, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    Becks, you missed my point. I wasn’t referring to you personally. I’m saying that most people live in the East Bay and Oakland should be the area where corporation place their headquarters. Why is this argument absurd? Less people needlessly crossing a dangerous bridge in earthquake country is a good thing. Don’t you think? Not to mention shorter commutes are always good for the environment.

    • Becks October 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

      I did not miss your point and of course agree that we need more business and more jobs in Oakland, but even if we doubled or tripled the jobs in Oakland, there would still be Oaklanders that crossed the Bay and San Franciscans that crossed the Bay. So regardless, we need to be concerned about transbay travel.

  7. Rafael October 31, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    BART offers capacity in both directions, all day long. Are westbound trains out of SF full during morning rush hour? How about eastbound trains into SF in the evening? Same for the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, btw.

    Instead of demanding the construction of a second BART tube for $10 billion, perhaps we should be asking why everybody and their grandmother absolutely, positively has to work in downtown San Francisco to begin with.

    It’s time for land use to be based on available transportation capacity instead of the other way around. Financial service providers should be encouraged to set up shop in the East and North Bay, beginning with back office operations. Thanks to the Internet, it’s simply no longer necessary for everyone to commute to where the executives prefer to have their own corner offices.

    • Becks October 31, 2009 at 11:35 am #

      Who’s “demanding” the construction of a second BART tube?

      My point is that it’s extremely concerning that BART is expanding and expanding the system (BART to San Jose, E-BART, OAC, etc.) and does not seem to be considering the impact those extensions will have on the core system. BART needs to step back from what they’re doing and consider the system as a whole. Right now, it seems that they’re just planning piece by piece and don’t have a clear plan of how it will fit together without crushing capacity in the transbay tube.

  8. david vartanoff October 31, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    Ah, yes, if the trains max out in the sprawlburbs, how will urban subway riders cope? Or, more precisely what should we expect from BART? Will they start running more ‘short turns’ say starting in Lafayette? (there is a relay track there to facilitate same) Will they make any efforts?
    This is BTW yet another reason to condemn further extensions into the hinterlands.
    IMHO BART needs to do a full rethink of service patterns.

  9. jaded October 31, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    I take the Transbay bus in the AM. My route, the P is typically and old, wifi free bus. This is a better choice for me than taking BART, as it is more efficient. I wish the P ran later, because if i have poor timing, the bus choices back to my neighborhood are poorly timed with A transit, so sometimes it is more appealing to take a 20 min walk instead of waiting 20 minutes for the bus.

    Yesterday, BART had a short run bus from Montgomery to Concord. It was great, and I hope they do more short runs. It would work well from Layfayette to Civic Center or perhaps El Cerritto to Civic Center. Lots of riders get in around 12, 19 or Macarthur and face backed cars, the trip is so short that this could help with some of the capacity issues.

  10. rajbot October 31, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    Interesting. I felt like BART was crowded this week, but it didn’t seem excessive. It was basically pretty much the level of crowding you get when there’s a snafu in the scheduling and the trains back up. That said, I ride the fremont/dub/pleasanton line — maybe it was more crowded on Pittsburg/Baypoint/Richmond lines? Maybe people who board at earlier stops and are used to sitting had to stand?

    • Becks November 1, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

      I was referring to peak traffic times, which are Monday-Friday in the morning and the evening. Weekends are never so heavy.

      But I did ride BART last night from MacArthur to Powell and the train was PACKED both ways. I rode on the last car so managed to get a seat, but people were having a difficult time even getting into the middle cars.

  11. david vartanoff October 31, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    BART is handicapped by insufficient cars, exacerbated by inability to run closer headways, and lack of relay tracks. While this map
    http://world.nycsubway.org/us/sf/bart-trackmap.html is out of date at the far ends, it makes clear the paucity of turnback locations in the core. I often imagine an easy to add location would be in the flat section east of Lake Merritt. Ultimately, BART needs to figure out how to emulate Caltrain which lets expresses pass up locals on the opposite track.

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