Photo by Josh Birnbaum – STAFF
As if by some miracle, the great cogs of the bureaucracy that is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission managed to turn fast enough to get three more days of free transit funded for controlling smog.
And when I caught my free BART ride on the way home tonight, I could tell. Never have I seen the Richmond train so packed at 6:50 p.m. And while there were the usual miscreants and out-of-school teen-agers enjoying free rides, it was clear that the bulk of these new riders were also on their way home from work.
BARTs hand counts this morning led them to estimate that 26,000 more people than usual rode the subway and 8-percent increase that brought the estimated total riders for the day to 349,000, not including late-night partiers. Id like to be on hand for a late-night rider survey or would I?
So, after the high of 33,000 extra riders who came onboard for the first Spare the Air Day June 22 and subsequent boosts of 16,000 on June 23 and 28,0000 on June 26, BART head-counters are saying theyve squeezed 103,000 more riders into their already cramped carriages.
And thats just BART. The guy who runs the City of Alamedas two ferry services, whom I interviewed because the city balked at doing a fourth Spare the Air Day on short notice, complained that his boats were swamped with passengers during the first three. Hiring extra boats and crew cost them $4,000 a day, which explains why the MTC has to subsidize them so much.
The point, however, is that people responded to the free rides, and hopefully will figure out that even when they have to pay for transit, it will save money and headaches. It will certainly cause different headaches, and on the Alameda ferries the argument was that you cant give neophyte riders such an unpleasant experience that they wont come back.
The mere fact that only two operators out of 25 decided not to offer free service says volumes about what the MTC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District went through to pull this off. It took a lot of people by surprise, not the least of whom were the transit operators.
Air district spokeswoman Luna Salaver said she had to make “69 phone calls, because it was very difficult to get operators on the first round Sunday. She says she made a special effort to call ferry operators realizing at 5 p.m. Sunday that Alameda had left the district a voice mail message that it would not be showing up for the game.
And then there were the little things, such as the lack of special blue easy-to-peel-off “no fare stickers for BART to put over its gates and for bus operators to cover their fare boxes. BART apparently printed their own paper cards to tape over the gates. I noticed that they took care to mention which agencies were paying for the free transit.
“In some cases, it might have been a piece of duct tape over a fare slot, said MTC spokesman John Goodman.
However they did it, it happened, and the fact that it did allowed the Bay Area give the nation a glimpse of a path out of its enslavement to fossil fuels and the automobile.
Photo by CC