Peninsula BART ridership on the rise

Recent ridership gains on BART’s Peninsula extension to the airport may be the first sign of a turnaround on the line, which has fallen short of projected estimates since it opened in summer 2003.

BART’s extension south of Daly City was originally projected to carry 40,000 passengers on an average weekday. Launched in the middle of an economic recession, however, as well as in the midst of a major drop in travel after Sept. 11, 2001, it saw just 30,000 riders that April.

Nonetheless, ridership figures — helped out slightly by a one-day boost on April 30 after the collapse of a portion of the MacArthur Maze in the East Bay — have jumped 22 percent from February 2004, BART records show.

“It takes time,” said BART spokesman Dave Martindale. “When a new extension goes in it’s a matter of people getting used to it.”

“Getting used to it” appears to be what’s happening, with 9.9 percent and 9.2 percent growth from 2006 to 2007 for the months of March and April respectively, the latest figures available.

BART hopes to continue ridership gains on the Peninsula by doubling the 75 trains serving San Francisco International Airport and Millbrae, Martindale said.

The increase is a 180-degree change from the reductions in service implemented in recent years. SamTrans, San Mateo County’s bus operator, had been forced to subsidize the money-losing service to the tune of $32 million since 2004 under an agreement with BART, and in response, repeatedly asked BART to cut service.

But after an agreement was approved ending SamTrans’ responsibility for BART operations on the Peninsula in exchange for a major payout, BART now intends to cater to riders heading to and from SFO.

In addition to doubling train service, BART hopes to raise revenue by offering $6 per day long-term airport parking at five Peninsula BART stations. BART estimates it could make as much as $12,800 a day from parking alone.

“The more we can match our trains to when planes arrive, both early and late, the better service we’ll provide,” Martindale said.

Some may question whether SamTrans got out of the BART business just as the extension is poised to make money. SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg was skeptical, pointing out that another 10,000 weekday riders would have to jump on board just to meet the original estimates.

Supervisor Jerry Hill, who sits on both the SamTrans and Caltrain boards, agreed.

“It’s a good thing we got out from under the agreement [with BART] because we now have more certainty and know what our costs are going to be,” Hill said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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