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falling in and out of love with BART

By enelson
Thursday, February 15th, 2007 at 6:57 pm in AC Transit, air travel, BART, Bicycling, Buses, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, rail, Transit vs. driving.


Call me Capricious, but as much as I’m predisposed, I can’t seem to embrace public transit consistently.

I love to sit in one of the Capitol Corridor’s reclining seats with an AC (not to be confused with the bus agency) outlet nearby so I can watch DVDs of old movies uninterrupted on my laptop. Ahhh, this is commuting, I think. Did I mention the little bottles of chardonnay? The big ones?

Then there was this morning, dropping my teenager off at the airport, driving home to take the dog out one more time and getting to the train station only moments before my coaches were due to arrive. Then I saw a couple of familiar faces walking away from the station.

“Is the train late?” I asked them (Now, a snappy answer to this might be, “Was the Pope a Hitler Youth”? — but I digress).

“They said one hour and 15 minutes,” replied one of my fellow non-travelers.

Luckily, nearly all of the luckless commuters had personal internal combustion assistants to whisk them down I-80 to work and school. Plus, I had been putting off picking up prescription dog food for a week, and the pooch’s larder was nearly empty, so I got back behind the wheel, carried out my 40-minute errand and still managed to get to work within 10 minutes of my usual train-commute time.

I imagine that all of us lucky enough to have commuting choices get seduced by one mode, turned off by it and jump into the other mode whenever our disgust or convenience dictates.

So it happened when I quit taking BART from Richmond to Oakland, even though it brought me right to the block I work on. By taking the Capitol Corridor a bit farther, I saved a bunch of money and sacrificed only a small amount of convenience (except when the train got stuck in freight traffic for 45 minutes a quarter mile from Jack London Station, me clutching my bicycle and looking longingly at the paved street just outside the locked door).

When it rains, the bike stays in the garage and I’m back enjoying the dryness of BART all the way to 12th Street.

I thought of this rollercoaster of loyalty yesterday when San Mateo County Transit (SamTrans) and BART announced their intention to end their 17-year marriage, leaving their five children, Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Airport and the underachieving Millbrae in the custody of their mom, aka the Bay Area Rapid Transit District.

Dad still has to pay alimony, as the San Mateo County Times’ Michael Manekin deftly reports today:

Under the terms of the divorce proceedings, SamTrans washes its hands of the extension by allowing BART to take full control of its rail line. In return for the trouble, BART would receive $32 million — the lion’s share of SamTrans’ anticipated portion of bond money from the voter-approved Proposition 1B. Alongside an additional $800,000 from SamTrans’ annual share of state transit funding toward BART, the funds will go toward the construction of a BART extension to Warm Springs in Alameda County, a project that SamTrans was supposed to have helped fund with revenue from the money-losing extension.

As Michael notes, it’s always about money, isn’t it?

BART seduced SamTrans with visions of people jumping off of Caltrain‘s commuter railroad at Millbrae, just as I used to jump off the Capitol Corridor at Richmond. Those riders would get to their final destinations via BART, and the BART SFO Extension would become the world’s most lucrative subway.

There are many logical, rational explanations for how we got from the prediction of making a profit to the reality of 70  percent farebox recovery (i.e., 70 percent of operating costs are covered by fares, which is nearly miraculous in the world of mass transportation. Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said he hoped that concluding the conflict would “remove some of the cloud around this project, that it’s a failure, because it’s not.”).

The bills piled up, and SamTrans looked across the dinner table and BART’s fluttering eyelashes and “Fly BART to SFO” signage didn’t quite make up for it anymore.

SamTrans put his foot down, put BART on a $5 million-a-year budget and the next thing you know, they stopped speaking to each other. At least not in public.

What I wanted to know was, what does this mean for BART’s other relationships? The Valley Transportation Authority wants BART to snake its way down to San Jose and Santa Clara. They, too, have an understanding. Will this budding relationship also lead to rancor, breakup and custody hearings?

BART’s Linton Johnson says no.

“The agreement with Santa Clara County has more provisions ensuring that the taxpayers of the BART District don’t get hit with a bill that they don’t deserve.”

Hmm. I wonder how that will sound over bagels and orange juice.

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One Response to “falling in and out of love with BART”

  1. murphstahoe Says:


    Hindsight is always 20/20. While the SFO extension works pretty good, and
    I do take BART to the airport, it has to be raining buckets and buckets for
    me to get off Caltrain at Millbrae and transfer to BART – which goes to
    within 6 blocks of my house, instead of staying on Caltrain to 22nd Street
    and slogging to Potrero Hill. Were I going to Downtown, Caltrain to the N-Judah
    is arguably better, and this will be more so when the T/J lines are the switch.

    BART is constantly tinkering with their departure times, moving the times away
    from the Caltrain connection. In the meantime, since BART construction on the
    extension started, Caltrain started running bullets that are non-stop from Millbrae
    to 22nd St or 4th/King. This makes BART a ridiculous alternative.

    My current “I wish they would have” thinking would have the Caltrain/BART connection
    in San Bruno, the line terminus at SFO, and no Millbrae stop at all. Granted Millbrae
    has better 101 access than any San Bruno alignment would have, but the empty garage
    at Millbrae makes me think that’s not such a big deal. Of course, this would mean either moving
    the BART station to Caltrain, which would not work with the lobbying from Tanforan, or
    moving the Caltrain station alignment somehow. While that sounds difficult, it would
    probably be doable with the money that was spent building the Millbrae station

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