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The time has come to rebuild BART

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(Gabrielle Lurie/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)

When BART was built in the late 1960s, it was the most advanced subway system in the world. But what was once state of the art technology is now almost obsolete and unable to cope with the ever increasing demands made on the system by booming ridership.

BART trains still run on a 1967 computer system which causes 25 percent of BART’s major delays and limits how many trains BART can run per hour. The basic infrastructure of BART’s electrical system has remained unchanged since it was first installed in the late 1960s, and the failure of which has caused the recent shutdown of Pittsburg-Bay Point station. Many of BART’s escalators date back to the start of the system, and can no longer handle crush loads, inclement weather or even heavy regular usage.

BART’s decaying infrastructure is the result of decades of underinvestment, and a culture that had focused on costly and imprudent exurban expansion over maintenance of the core system. But over the past few years, a new generation of leadership has come to power at BART. This leadership was elected by Bay Area voters with a mandate to fix the existing infrastructure first, before spending money on glitzy new extensions.

As a result of this new leadership, over the past 10 years BART has transformed how it maintains its train fleet, nearly doubling the number of miles each train car can travel before it experiences a breakdown. Last year, BART even led the country in the proportion of its train fleet that was operational and ready to ride on the average weekday morning.

Not only is BART doing maintenance better than before, it’s also doing it more cost-effectively. BART now has both the lowest operating cost per passenger mile and the lowest proportion of its operating cost paid for by government subsidy of any major U.S. transit system.

Despite these improvements, no one at BART is satisfied with the current state of its infrastructure or its service. Many of us wish different decisions had been made in the 1990s and 2000s. But now is not the time to point fingers at the mistakes made by previous generations, but to throw ourselves into tackling the problems they have left us to secure BART for future generations.

Which is why, this November, BART plans to ask the voters to double down on their commitment to rebuilding the core BART system with a $3.5 billion safety and reliability bond measure. This will be the first time BART has asked the voters to fund a major reinvestment program in its core system since BART opened all those decades ago.

The bond proceeds will be spent rebuilding and upgrading BART’s old and obsolete core systems (train control, electrical, escalators, track and tunnels) with modern technology. These investments are needed to ensure safe and reliable service for BART’s 450,000 daily riders. The bond measure is free of costly and imprudent projects that will stretch the system outwards, because our highest priority has to be getting our existing system into shape.

Rebuilding BART’s core systems with modern technology won’t just help existing BART riders. It will also allow BART to significantly increase capacity, to the tune of almost 200,000 daily riders, by running more trains faster and closer together. To put that in context, that’s 3 times Caltrain’s daily ridership and larger than the daily ridership of Muni Metro in San Francisco or AC Transit in the East Bay. Indeed, this bond investment plan would represent the single largest increase in public transit capacity in the history of the Bay Area.

As importantly, these investments also make sense for those who rarely or never ride BART such as car commuters or bus riders. A BART that doesn’t function or doesn’t keep up with the Bay Area’s growth will only funnel more cars onto already overly congested streets and highways. Indeed, studies have shown that, in the absence of BART, commute times along some of the Bay Area’s busiest highways would triple from already long waits.

Today, BART stands at the edge of a precipice. BART riders and the Bay Area as a whole cannot afford another decade relying on its aging and inefficient systems built in the 1960s. Without meaningful investment now, ever slower and less reliable transportation will hold back the development of our region and the ability for each Bay Area resident to thrive. The time has come to rebuild BART from the ground up.

Nicholas Josefowitz serves on the BART Board of Directors.

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  • Jonathan Marsh

    I will be happy to vote for the bond issue. I rely on BART, so I have no doubt that maintenance of a good state of repair and increasing throughput capacity are critically important. Fanatic tax resisters and union haters unfortunately sent to Sacramento by Contra Costa County voters and the conservative East Bay newspaper editorial writers are willing to kill this goose that lays golden eggs unless it bows to their viewpoint. I urge you to clearly make the case that a failing BART will will depress the whole Bay Area economy and undermine air quality by adding to roadway usage.

  • J_12

    Mr. Josefowitz, thank you for a well-written editorial that clearly spells out the needs of BART and the consequences for the region if the system does not get sufficient investment. I hope that the people of the bay area are listening.
    Investment in transit infrastructure like BART is one of the absolute best possible expenditures of public resources. It increases the value of property and business throughout the region and improves the quality of life for just about everyone.

    Many people wish that planners and developers had had the foresight to create more housing supply decades ago in order to avoid the current shortage. This is a similar opportunity – a robust transit infrastructure that can meet the demands of the region will help keep the cost of living here from spiraling out of control, and will remove one of the main impediments that could put the brakes on economic growth in the bay area.

    If BART does not get the funding it needs to modernize and upgrade, it will mean longer and less reliable commutes for everyone, even more expensive property values within the core areas of San Francisco and the east bay (because commuting to these job centers from anywhere else will take so long), and it will impose a physical limit on business and economic growth throughout the whole region.

  • Everyusernametaken

    I am all for this but does what is stipulated in the bond translate to rebuilding it from the ground up? What would also help is if it ran past 12:20am……..

  • Jgritty

    Just doing a little math here, because it’s fun. 3.5 billion dollars, if we assume 450,000 riders daily, 365 days a year, is $21.31 per ride. Yikes. If we just spread that out over 10 years, it could be ONLY $2.13 per ride.

    That’s a lot of money though, just saying.

  • lionsmaul

    You forgot to add in the cost of hours spent in traffic by the people who would’ve taken BART if it’s not upgraded, dollars spent upgrading roads for the expected crush of cars, and money spent mitigating the health and environmental consequences of that many more cars on the road. Just saying.

  • djconnel

    You’re quite right to quantify it, although the 10 year version makes more sense. But no transportation is not a viable option, and the cost of car infrastructure, including all aspects, is even more impressive. We need transportation for a vibrant society and economy, and public transit is an essential, perhaps the most essential, component.

  • Steven L.

    Pay for another tunnel and you’ll get your wish.

  • jgkiefer

    I hear what you are saying and agree but-
    Every election voters are asked to raise the fares for maintenance and to keep the system updated. It seems that this was just “BART BS Talk” and nothing really happened to keep BART updated or we would not be in this mess now. It also appears that all the past monies the voters approved actually go to BART employees following each BART strike that holds the Bay Area hostage.
    Let us not forget that BART gets money from sales tax and property taxes. I live in Antioch and have been paying BART taxes for 40 years without BART actually going to Antioch. So BART actually takes in a LOT of money; it seems that BART has no clue on how to use this money for system upgrades, they only know how to give themselves raises and bonuses.
    I will not vote to give BART another dime until BART strikes are make illegal, and BART can prove it can actually successfully run a transit system. (It has been how many weeks and they still don’t know what is causing the power issues on the Bay Point line, I mean really? They built the system. Plain incompetence.)
    Please help me send a message to BART by voting no on their multi-billion bond measure, which past history shows will actually go towards raises and bonuses. (Then they will go on strike for more money while it stops me from going to work and feeding my family.)

  • jgkiefer

    Until BART goes on strike.

  • Mark Lewis

    I’d only support this if it came with a financial watchdog who kept the bond money out of the pockets and salaries of BART executives.

  • sirthierry

    I, like I imagine a lot of voters, am torn on this. Yes, BART has been suffering from an aging infrastructure, that if not invested in will cause a huge problem for the region. Yes, drastic measures are probably needed in order to fix this issue. However, what has led to this problem has been mismanagement of the system- and pouring money on top of the corrupted system won’t fix it beyond the limited scope of the proposed repairs. Mr. Josefowitz, if you’re advocating ‘rebuilding BART,’ you would be remiss at not addressing the system as a whole- including management and personnel/union- as the rusting steel, and crumbling concrete are mere symptoms of these larger leadership and employee issues.

    The compensation and bonus structure is corrupt, the public-facing employees are apathetic, and the service is unreliable. This is due to the fact that BART operates in a Government and Union-run world, where things like efficiency and good customer service are all but foreign concepts. BART is effectively asking for a raise again, and at a time when its performance is at an all time low. In the private sector, if I were going to my boss asking for a raise, I would NEVER dream of asking for it when my performance was at its lowest. Yet, this is what BART routinely does, and this time is no exception.

    Mr. Josefowitz, you need to instil confidence in your, and BART leaderships’ ability to effectively manage the current system, warts and all, prior to asking for billions of dollars. You need to win the harts and minds of the population you serve. Alas, the source of the problem- the Government and Union-run ethos is not likely going to be changed without the system collapsing- so as much as I hate to say it, total collapse may be the necessary evil, and the only way to truly ‘rebuild BART’ in a manner that is sustainable for the future.

  • frequency8

    and employees unless it’s directly related to upgrading the subway system.

  • Roger Adkins

    If it’s going to make property values and rents go up then I’m voting against it!

  • markkraft

    I will gladly vote for more funding… just as soon as BART demiliarizes. They have a police force larger than many local cities… about a hundred times that of CalTrain, and armed to the teeth with automatic weaponry. All this is a waste of our tax dollars, and interferes with making BART a safe, affordable means of transit for its passengers.

    Have them dump their SWAT team, cut staff, stop killing unarmed civilians, rely more on local policing, and not have officers carrying guns around crowded stations, with guns locked away unless absolutely necessary… convince us that they will not waste our money… and then I will vote for any bonds they propose for funding.

    Until that point, though, I will vote against any bonds they propose, gladly cancelling out any and all funding they can get. Seems only fair, really.

  • markkraft

    … and one that cut the grossly obscene BART police force, which has its own SWAT team, automatic rifles, and which has this nasty habit of killing its own customers.

  • sojourner_7

    Hopefully, the majority of voters being asked to pay for this will NOT be fooled again. Time and time again, large sums of money have been thrown at BART, with poor results. The system is dysfunctional, not only the actual hard parts, but also the management system. With the recent actions/inactions of BART management fresh in mind, the choice to be spending ungodly amounts of money to try and resuscitate the life-support system is an easy one to reject. Fool us once, shame on us but fool us 2-3-4 times… we finally get a clue. Let some new agency create new transit out of the bones of the BART corpse.

  • sojourner_7

    Sorry to say, but, any “Financial Watchdog” requirement would just be smoke&mirrors… the sleigh of hand and general corruption of the political side of BART would run rampant over any attempts to be truly held accountable.

  • sojourner_7

    Cars are getting cleaner by the day, and funds are not being spent on roads anyway. Moot point, just more anti-car propaganda. Most people would rather carpool than Bart, if that option exists. And Bart is selling off their parking spaces in any case, jeez. Dysfunctional.

  • sojourner_7

    Really, the entire Bay Area economy depends on and can be held hostage by BART’s needs and expenses? That is simply nonsense.

  • Jonathan Marsh

    You are held hostage by your circulatory system. If an important component deteriorates your health will decline. That is the analogy to why it is important to maintain a state of good repair for BART. It is not nonsense.

  • sojourner_7

    Time for a transfusion from a new donor, or perhaps organ transplant. BART has proven itself incapable of “a state of good repair”.

  • Jonathan Marsh

    While BART does not extend to Antioch it relieves road usage pressure for anyone driving from Antioch westward. That is good value for your taxes and eventually a rail connection will be completed. Outside consultants studied BART capital needs to maintain a state of good repair for the existing system in 2012 and found a shortfall of many billions over the next 30 years. Since federal and state transit funding has declined steadily the only source is us. We need BART and should fund it adequately. Issues such as management competence and labor compensation are best addressed at the ballot box when BART Directors are seeking to keep their positions. Starving BART of funds necessary to maintain a state of good repair amounts to self abuse.

  • Jonathan Marsh

    Starving BART of funds necessary to maintain a state of good repair amounts to self abuse.

  • lucky

    if Bart has the lowest cost per passenger mile of any major US transit system, as noted in the article, then why does it cost more to ride than NYC?

    Yes I’m being sassy but if there’s an actual answer I’d sincerely like to hear it.

  • Carpool and then pay $15+ for city parking? No thanks.

  • sfparkripoff

    What’s wrong with BART? Go to any search engine and type in millionaircarpetbagger to learn more about who is running BART.Mr Josefowitz has no experience in running a public transit system and he has only been in the United States for a few years. Is the public supposed to bow at this guys feet because of his lack of experience? The fact that he wants to sell off the parking lots at BART stations speaks volumes about his motives. Mr Josewitz is using the same behavioral-finance strategies that Wallstreet uses to manipulate markets. Keep the public in the dark, dependent, irrational, and woefully un-informed, then present a “we care” persona to convince the public to fund their solution.

    Does anyone really think the entire BART system collapsed overnight? Every “crisis” is a cash machine for urban planners and transit officials. Whenever MUNI wants more money from the public they degrade service, and then offer a bond measure to raise money to “fix” the problem they engineered. BART and MUNI budgets budgets are basically Ponzi schemes that require new infusions of cash to pay off old obligations.

    Urban Planners and their lobby have been shopping around plans to build out and expand BART. Now they just need to sucker the taxpayers into into funding it. Developers are buying up the property around BART stations to build more luxury housing, so the public needs to ask where the money is coming from, and who is facilitating the exchange of public property to private interests.

  • sfparkripoff

    You hit the nail on the head. After we throw billions at BART and MUNI they can still shut down transit to the public with “sick outs” , “power surges” and strikes.

  • UWS_CA

    That’s silly. BART goes through some of the worst parts of the Bay Area….the East Bay (Hayward, Oakland), the Tenderloin, etc. Longer commute times and broken down trains are nothing compared to rampant crime if they have less resources. Safety is first.

    It’s cute that you liked your own post, though.

  • UWS_CA

    This is what all those that are against public transit forget: “A BART that doesn’t function or doesn’t keep up with the Bay Area’s growth will only funnel more cars onto already overly congested streets and highways.”

    They want to spend money on more roads and freeways but keeping BART’s 450K passengers off the roads does more to help than any new road or extra lane.

  • UWS_CA

    The more disappointing part of the past when it comes to BART is that it wasn’t approved to go all the way around the Bay like the original plan. A lot more people would use BART if it could connect the entire region, instead of just parts of it.

  • djconnel

    Recently code to Caltrains annual budget was spent on extending a merge lane on 1 mile of 101. This was just a small incremental enhancement. The expressway freeway system of the south bay is a money pit. And despite your assessment BART is highly functional. Fool us twice? We’ve been duped into investing in a road system which has crippled our mobility, fractured our communities, and condemned people to spending thousands in vehicles they often shouldn’t need. We need to stop holding public transit spending to an ubrealistic standard.

  • sojourner_7

    Obviously you dislike roads & cars. Fine. This initiative is about property taxes. Your description of roads in the South Bay, which may or may not be accurate, isn’t an activity funded by property taxes. Nobody has been “duped” by the road system, without which the entire economy would cease to function. Sure, California has problems, let’s focus on them. A huge problem is BART and the entire structure that pretends to manage the system. BART can raise ticket fares on their own. But when they come to the general public for Billions and billions of taxpayer dollars, they will be held accountable for their actions. Two/thirds majority? Simply isn’t going to happen. Want a better rail transit system? Get rid of BART entirely and start fresh. That might get more public support.

  • sfparkripoff

    Agreed! Look at the people who are on the BART board. Most of them have NO experience running a transit system. Look no further that BARTs Board of Directors to see a “who’s, who” of inexperience. One guy came from East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Another says he’s an “urban environmental activist”. The Director of BART profile says she is a “public transit and policy advocate, coalition builder, and grassroots organizer.” and the latest Board member who wrote this OPED literally has NO EXPERIENCE in transportation.(Go to any search engine and type in “millionaircarpetbagger” for his credentials.

    Now back to the reality of the situation. Most of the people who run BART are not engineers, mechanics, computer programmers, or transportation planners. The people who are in charge of this multi billion dollar transportation system are community organizers and “idea people” who are causing more trouble than they’re worth.

    If the Bay Area were serious about fixing BART they would get rid of the BART Board and replace them with engineers and other problem solvers who can actually help.

  • sojourner_7

    OK. Lets spend more money on mass-transit… anywhere except BART. This isn’t Bart vs Roads, this is Bart vs spending money wisely. And, no one is hitting us up with a property tax initiative for Billions for roads.

  • djconnel

    How much property tax is collected by the space taken up by the expressways? The cost of land-intensive car infrastructure goes well beyond the cost of flattening asphalt. Anyway, you’re right I think this addiction is a tragic environmental, social, and economic disaster. The question is how to make BART better, not whether to abandon it.

  • sojourner_7

    The question is simple. $3.5 Billion for Bart, yes or no? Just that simple. Roads have been around since before you were born, and they’ll still be in mainstream use after you’re gone. It’s futile and erroneous to blame roads as being a “tragic environmental, social, and economic disaster. ” And your positions become easy to dismiss with such nonsense.

  • edsully

    The BART Board is elected by the voters. So the voters have to assume some responsibility for BARTs woes if they don’t elect competent people.

  • blangton

    I have also wondered why the ticket prices are so expensive compared to my experiences with NYC, Berlin, Paris among others. This especially true of the Airport runs. It costs so much that it exceeds the maximum amount that one can claim as tax free (IRS accounts are now up to $240 per month). When I commute to work from Oakland to SFO, it costs $18.30 every day.

  • oakb

    Pretty sure transfusions and transplants cost money as well. There is no cheap fix here. The feds will fund our roads but not our transit, it is up to us to pay for it.


    The logistical planning for BART was dead in the dirt from the start. As a top 3 most railing for -subway- system in America, BART has been ugly since the start. If anything, BART should be an example of what happens when municipal officials get in good with private contractors who sell dreams. Unfortunately the joke is on us… See you on the platform next week while we draft work emails about how we will be late to work.

  • Pam

    I wish I could believe this editorial, but as long as there are still extensions in the pipeline, why should I? It’s evident to every BART rider that the extensions have come at the expense of maintaining the infrastructure and making improvements to the existing system. Mr. Josefowitz even states it explicitly in this editorial, but just before the current meltdown happened, BART was trumpeting the extension into Santa Clara County–a county that opted out and hasn’t paid a time into the system for the past half-century-plus–and that is not the only extension in the pipeline. If BART really wants to pass that bond measure, it needs to halt those projects. Otherwise, they are only adding passengers to an already overextended system and yet more track and other infrastructure that won’t be properly maintained.

  • Eric Arnold

    the idea that BART’s infrastructure suddenly needs to replaced and no one at BART had any idea this was coming is seriously flawed. So is the idea that this can only be addressed by a 3.5b public bond. The truth is that BART was never designed to meet the needs of Bay Area residents; it was designed to line the pockets of developers who were able to build condos in places like Bay Point. Those developers should be on the hook for system improvements, not private citizens. Also, BART not running 24 hours makes no sense. Neither does the fact that 100,000s of thousands of flatland residents aren’t well-served by BART. if BART had been built right in the first place, you would have internal loops in places like East Oakland, like they have in Tokyo and Washington DC. As it is now, if you dont live close to San Leandro Ave, and you’re an East Oakland resident, BART is inaccessible. If we’re going to fix anything, let’s start there.

  • This is a $3.5 billion measure. What vanishingly tiny percentage of that represents BART executive salaries? Of all the justifiable and valid critiques one can levy at BART management, this is your biggest umbrage? Are you trolling

  • Andrew Pullin

    Open source that shit and let “the community” design and write a new computer control system.

    And for the love of christ, just have Bike Cars at the tail of 9 and 10 cars trains. They say that cars are swapped around enough that this is not doable … that just sounds like there needs to be some operational refactoring.

    Also, I know what causes the BART screech, and it is not the track surface. But I won’t tell anyone unless BART hires me.