Monday commute smooth, may worsen

A predicted commuter nightmare failed to materialize Monday after the shutdown of a portion of the MacArthur Maze but transit officials are wary of the weeks, and possible months, to come.

State-sponsored free transit Monday, combined with heavy news coverage of the dramatic fire on Interstate 880, that caused the subsequent collapse of a section of Interstate 580, alerted many commuters to the possible traffic snarls. But the expected crush of transit passengers never materialized.

Morning Bay Bridge traffic remained light, with the metering lights off Monday, even though the missing highway closed down the confluence of highways at the eastern foot of the bridge. Some drivers heading through the Maze took the opportunity to gawk at the collapsed connector ramp, which slowed traffic somewhat, according to the California Highway Patrol.

“I think tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll start seeing the real commute pattern, which will be in effect until the interchange is repaired,” Alameda/Oakland Ferry spokesman Ernest Sanchez said.

While public transit riders will have to pay today and during the duration of the interstate construction, transit officials have beefed up services to make the commutes easier.

There will be longer trains on BART, which is also increasing its peak commute period by 45 minutes, allowing riders to catch trains every seven to eight minutes for a longer period of time. BART spokesman David Martindale said that because fare gates were not in use it was hard to get an accurate passenger count, but he said the agency estimated the crowd at about average during the morning peak commute hours. BART carries an average of 340,000 people per day.

AC Transit put 25 additional buses into service, and Muni has 12 buses on standby in case there is an increase in riders over the next few weeks, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said Monday.

In The City, Muni is deploying 20 parking officers to downtown traffic hot spots and at each Bay Bridge onramp during peak hours, Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said. He said parking and control officers and station agents will be on hand to help customers transfer between BART and Muni.

On Monday evening, commuters said they found the commute pleasant enough, given the expected amount of people taking mass transit or the time delays predicted at the Maze.

“Today, it was perfect. … I was expecting it to be crowded. But I had no problem at all.” Toni Westbrook, of San Leandro, said as she boarded BART on Monday evening.

“I guess maybe some folks were warned away from attempting to make the morning commute for whatever reasons. Maybe they could work at home, or if they were feeling a little bit sick, they went ahead and called in,” Alameda-Contra Costa Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said.

AC Transit used only three of the 12 auxiliary transbay buses it had waiting at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, Johnson said, but the agency intends to prepare for larger crowds later in the week.

amartin@examiner.com

Staff writers Alexandria Rocha and Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

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