BART board to study late-night service – and how it affects early-morning riders
Would you want BART to run an extra hour on Friday nights, if it meant it’d also have to start later on Saturday morning? That’s what the transit agency’s staff will be asking both current and would-be riders over the next few weeks as they evaluate whether to try out running the later trains in a six-month pilot this fall.
Earlier today the board heard a staff report weighing the pros and cons of the demonstration project, which would see the last train leave San Francisco around 1:30am Friday nights, instead of 12:30am as it does now. The first Saturday morning trains would start their runs at 7am, instead of 6am. That may not seem like much to the 23,000 people who want trains to run 24 hours – in case you’re curious, here’s why they don’t – but it would be a landmark change for BART, which has not changed its schedule for more than 30 years.
In the report, staff estimated that the change would come out roughly evenly in terms of ridership – they’d lose about 3,000 early-morning riders, but gain roughly 2,600 in late-nighters. But, they stressed, those numbers were educated guesses at best. Without significant public outreach, it’s impossible to know how many people would start using BART who don’t do so now. Several board members pointed out that it wasn’t just late-night party people who would benefit: shift workers at hotels, restaurants, and the region’s airports could also take advantage of the changes.
Similarly, the agency has very limited data on who exactly uses the trains Saturday mornings. What information they do have suggests that people board throughout the system, but most get off in downtown San Francisco. Finding out who those people are, and what they’re doing on those mornings, is the next major step, and will be the focus of public outreach in the coming weeks.
The report put the cost of the demo at $1.2 million dollars, which included salaries and benefits for 10 new part-time employees. That raised eyebrows among several board members, who wondered why current staff couldn’t simply adjust their schedules. After hearing the debate, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 president Antonette Bryant said she didn’t think the changes would be a problem, as the agency already employs a number of part-time workers whose contracts allow for more work. It was not clear how much money the agency would save by expanding those employees’ hours in lieu of making new hires.
Though the current proposal is relatively limited, many board members had the system’s long-term future in mind. BART may have been designed as a commuter train, “but we’re now a metro system,” said board member Tom Radulovich. “We’re the backbone of transportation in the region, and eventually we need to evolve to a 24-hour service.”
Extending the system’s hours even two days a week would pose huge challenges for maintenance crews, which already have very limited windows in which to do their work. Unlike other major urban systems, BART has very few places where it can reroute trains while maintenance is ongoing; most work must be done while the system is shut down. Radulovich said figuring out how to solve that problem should be one of the agency’s long-term goals. He and several other board members floated the idea of BART either running or helping to run a regular late-night bus service that would serve normal BART routes. Currently, East Bay bus agency AC Transit runs a limited all-nighter service.