BART’s party for 1% of riders

Joël Ramos Headshot

Tomorrow, BART will unveil the Oakland Airport Connector with a party to celebrate the new link from Coliseum Station to the Oakland International Airport.

We like parties as much as anyone else. But this one feels a little too exclusive for our taste.

That’s because fewer than 1% of BART riders are expected to board the Connector each day. More than 400,000 daily riders will be footing the bill for this half-billion-dollar project for decades to come.

If BART was running impeccable service for its core users, we wouldn’t be as concerned by this imbalance. But anyone who’s ridden BART regularly over the past few years knows that’s not the case.

From overstuffed, overheated trains to equipment failures and epic delays, BART has for too long done too little to invest in repair and maintenance on the core system. The Oakland Airport Connector is characteristic of past decisions to splurge on costly expansions that benefit a small percentage of riders.

Even with its high one-way fare of $6, the Connector is a money-losing endeavor. Despite a $4.8 billion backlog of repair and maintenance, BART is launching a project that’s expected to run at a deficit through 2040.

And as more and more Bay Area residents are expected to use BART for their travels – with a projected ridership of up to 750,000 by 2040 – it’s even more critical that BART’s Board of Directors ensure that the benefits and costs of expansion projects are better matched.

We urge BART’s Board to take the Oakland Airport Connector opening as an opportunity not just for celebration, but for reflection. There are important lessons to be learned and applied to future decisions – not least the controversial proposal to run BART trains to Livermore.

First, BART’s Board must place top priority on the needs of the vast majority of current daily riders. It is irresponsible to pay $500 million for a project serving less than 1% of daily users while not doing enough for basic system maintenance.  Expansions should not come at the expense of safe, frequent, reliable and affordable service for 400,000-plus daily riders.

What’s more, BART’s Board should give a fair hearing to all options when considering significant projects. With the Oakland Airport Connector, there were more affordable, efficient technologies that didn’t get due consideration.  BART riders and Bay Area taxpayers deserve to know we’re choosing the best, most cost-effective solutions for our region.

We hope that the service launched at tomorrow’s party ultimately benefits many people. Even more, we want BART to recognize that the party should look different next time.

BART’s Board of Directors must stop spending too much money on too few people. They should focus on core service improvements to prepare for growing demand on the system, and approach expansion plans with caution.

No one’s likely to pop open the bubbly over track repairs or electrical upgrades. But a BART system that runs smoothly, without delay or disruption, is something that everyone in the Bay Area can truly celebrate.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.