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.