Crammed trains, warped tracks and crumbling tunnel walls are nearly certain in BART’s future if a $3.5 billion bond to bolster the transit agency is not passed.
That’s the argument of proponents of Proposition RR, which runs the gamut of Bay Area groups — from policy think tank SPUR to the business-inclusive Bay Area Council, a bevy of San Francisco politicians and UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.
The bond is so widely supported it even has the support of TransForm, one of BART’s most frequent and vocal critics.
“We truly believe this is a critical opportunity to make sure BART is in great shape and can continue to meet the needs of its 400,000-(plus) daily riders,” TransForm wrote, in its full-throated endorsement of the measure, written by regional planning director Joel Ramos.
The bond comes as BART experiences numerous delays: From broken tracks, power failures, smoking trains and at least one instance of electric sparks that enveloped a train.
And BART’s woes hurt drivers as well, proponents of the ballot measure claim, as BART’s inability to serve its ridership results in more cars congesting Bay Area roads.
The bond was put on the ballot by the BART Board of Directors in a 9-0 vote in June, and it’s meant to address a decade-long, nearly $10 billion infrastructure need in order to meet a state of basic good repair.
One of the biggest chunks of the bond, $625 million, would go toward renewing 90 miles of BART’s 107 total miles of track — much of which was first laid when BART started in the early 1970s.
BART track deformities are known to plague the system, and the agency runs trains slowly over these three dozen or so “hot spots,” according to news reports.
This problem was made particularly prominent last year when a 10-inch chunk of rail broke off the track between Civic Center and 16th Street stations, causing a major delay.
But perhaps the most expensive need is the $1 billion toward the system’s power infrastructure, and $570 million toward repairing tunnels and other structures.
The bond would also pay for the replacement of BART’s train control system, which the agency and outside organizations have called outdated — it was designed in the 1960s and counts the old arcade game “Pong” as a contemporary, as noted by BART board director Nick Josefowitz in the past.
SPUR wrote that the outdated train control system is responsible for 20 percent of BART delays.
To pass, Prop. RR requires two-thirds support in each of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Perhaps the only public opposition to the BART bond came from the East Bay Times, which asked its readers to vote no on the bond and claimed the bond could charge homeowners across three counties as much as $150 to $200 annually.
In public meetings, BART board directors have framed a future without the bond as a near doomsday scenario, with the agency unable to keep up with its ballooning ridership, which ferries 440,000 trips each day — and is expected to grow to 600,000 daily trips by 2040, according to SPUR.
In March, after one among many BART delays, the agency itself famously framed its funding woes in a reply tweet to a frustrated rider, who wrote, “We’ve come to expect rush-hour equipment problems and train delays from you.”
BART’s reply, which reached The New York Times and millions of viewers, was noted for its unique candor:
“BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.”