BART riders hoping to take their bicycles on the train today might have been wishing instead that the new Bay Bridge bike lanes were complete! Today was supposed to be the launch of a much-anticipated five-month pilot allowing bikes on rush-hour trains. Bike advocates have been working for years to bring bikes on BART at all hours, and this was to be the final step toward winning that decades-long fight.
Instead, the end of the bike blackout has been eclipsed by a total shutdown. This morning, a strike closed service system-wide after contract negotiations between BART and employee unions failed late yesterday. Commuters crowded onto buses, ferries, and freeways that were already at capacity before the strike, demonstrating the critical role BART plays in the region’s transportation system.
As with the emergency shutdown in May, the delays and gridlock caused by today’s strike bespeak the need for the BART Board of Directors to do everything they can to keep their trains safe and reliable. Without sufficient upkeep, BART will increasingly risk service disruptions due to equipment failures and safety concerns.
For most of its 40-year history, BART has acted like a teenager, neglecting basic upkeep like going to the dentist in order to buy sparkly new toys. Now, BART’s teeth are falling out and the bills are coming due. BART faces an incredible backlog of maintenance and repair on its current system, but must continue repaying huge loans used to finance boondoggles like the Oakland Airport Connector.
In fact, during the last employee contract negotiations four years ago, BART was facing a fiscal crisis, and unions agreed to concessions to help keep the agency in the black.
The new BART Board shows signs of more maturity. Their recently approved budget shows a promising shift away from costly expansion studies, which divert resources from the unglamorous but essential work of maintaining and repairing the existing system. They’ve also committed to a system-wide analysis called the Metro Vision Plan, which will look at the long-term needs of aging infrastructure and a projected increase of up to 100,000 riders per day by 2020.
But costly extensions are always sparkly to someone, and we need to remain vigilant to ensure that the BART Board stays true to their promise of investing in repairs to the core system before expanding to far-reaching corners of the Bay Area. It’s going to be a long time before commuters can bike all the way across the Bay Bridge – if ever – and in the meantime, we need those trains running to keep our region moving.
TransForm will soon be ramping up our Save BART campaign to make sure BART prioritizes investments that will keep BART safe, reliable, and affordable. Click here to sign up for updates and ways to help as we get this campaign rolling.
Photo credit: Derrick Coetzee