Major service cuts are on the way for early morning BART riders, as the agency looks for more time to retrofit the underwater Transbay Tube for earthquake resiliency.
But before the 4 a.m. trains grind to a halt, the BART Board of Directors is set to hear two competing proposals to replace that early morning service with Transbay shuttle buses on Thursday.
The board is not set to vote on any plan yet, but the discussion will affect the commutes for the approximately 2,800 riders who commute by BART in its first hour of service. Overwhelmingly, those passengers are riding BART from the outer Bay Area to arrive in San Francisco, according to recent BART survey data.
Starting in February 2019, BART service will begin at 5 a.m., an hour later than usual, to allow construction crews more time to retrofit the three-and-a-half mile tube in the name of earthquake resiliency. Shaving time off morning service is expected to accelerate a three-and-a-half year earthquake retrofit project by 4 months and save the agency $15 million, according to BART.
The Transbay Tube is structurally sound, but “in a very large and very rare earthquake event” the outer shell and concrete liner are predicted to crack, the agency said in public documents.
At Thursday’s meeting, the BART planners will present the Board of Directors with two plans — essentially, one that provides less replacement bus service, and one that will create four additional express routes directly to San Francisco from the outer Bay Area via AC Transit. Those express routes will depart from Pittsburg/Baypoint, Pleasant Hill, Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont BART stations.
Some activists and businesses are concerned early morning workers will get the short end of the stick.
“It feels like someone is looking for an excuse to cut off-peak rail service after it’s already been declining from poor reliability,” said Ellen Teapot, a transportation advocate with the group East Bay for Everyone. “Instead of handing out free tickets and running expensive peak-only express buses, the board should direct staff to keep using the bus bridge model that’s already (worked), and create an all-day, every-day network of express buses that fills the gaps in BART’s suburban network and adds capacity across the Bay.”
Victoria Fierce, another advocate with East Bay for Everyone, worries that cutting BART service will push early morning BART riders “onto the highways” and back into cars.
In surveys of 1,180 early morning riders conducted by BART that will be presented for the first time to the board on Thursday, riders voiced approval for the more robust service network. About 33.9 percent of riders called the scaled back bus routes “excellent, good, or only fair,” whereas 47.3 percent of riders felt the same way towards the option with more San Francisco express bus routes. About 60 percent of respondents were from minority groups, and about 17.7 percent were low income, according to BART.
About 64 percent of early morning BART riders exit at San Francisco stations, according to BART rider data, at Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell and Civic Center stations.
The Hotel Council of San Francisco said hotel workers in The City count themselves among those early morning riders who depend on BART for work.
“It definitely is something that without a doubt will effect our employees,” said Kelly Powers, associate director of the council. “We’ll be looking at the solutions BART is bringing forth and encourage them to find ones that are as painless as possible, and economically viable, and comparable to the fees at BART.”
Nick Josefowitz, a BART board member who is running for supervisor in San Francisco, said bus options for riders will be cheaper than BART — and in some cases, faster.
“This is actually really exciting,” Josefowitz said. But the benefit to riders is only one half of the battle, he added, as construction crews will also benefit. “By opening later we go from an hour and a half [of maintenance work] to two and a half hours, which makes an enormous difference in how much work we can get done.”
BART board member Lateefah Simon, whose district includes part of San Francisco, said the sacrifices may be difficult, but are necessary.
“What BART is committed to doing is to work with AC Transit and other services to get [riders] where they need to be,” Simon said. “In order for us to rehab the system we need more time.”
BART staff estimate they’ll present a final plan for early morning bus replacements in September.