BART to SFO: A birthday to celebrate

This month the Bay Area will celebrate the third anniversary of a major accomplishment: the opening of the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport and Millbrae.

BART’s service to the airport is more visible than ever, thanks to bronze-colored train cars sporting the message, “Take BART to SFO.” The train cars are part of a new marketing agreement that is providing BART with $700,000 worth of advertising at no cost to taxpayers.

When you see one of the new cars, I urge you to reflect for a moment on what it took to make the SFO extension a reality. The convenience of having a train-to-plane connection took literally decades to complete, from conception to beginning of service.

Completing a public project of such magnitude is increasingly difficult. Witness the haggling over the design for the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. The BART extension to SFO represents one of the few times in recent history that Bay Area elected officials, residents and business united to create a major addition to our region. We should not lose sight of the will and perseverance to accomplish this, nor should we lose sight of its importance.

The Bay Area needed a convenient, modern mass-transit connection to its busiest airport to remain a world-class city. Is there any doubt the U.S. Olympic Committee, which toured the Bay Area in May, would be less interested in our region if the only way to get from the airport were by vehicle? BART’s extension to the airport may not have reached iconic status yet, but it is every bit as important to our transportation infrastructure as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Despite what you may have read, riders are responding. The number of people who take BART to SFO has steadily increased during each year since the extension began service in June 2003. In fact, comparing 2004 and 2005, the first two full fiscal years that the station has been open, ridership rose from 1,448,423 passengers annually to 1,668,632. That’s a 15.2 percent increase.

It’s easy to see why. Taking a BART train to the airport not only costs less than paying for a shuttle, taxi or for long-term parking, it is considerably less nerve-wracking. Getting trapped in gridlocked traffic while trying to catch a departing flight can ruin a trip. Taking BART, with its dependable 95 percent on-time record, is far less stressful.

One of the less well-known advantages of taking BART to SFO (and, for that matter, to Oakland International), is the long-term parking option at most East Bay BART stations. BART riders may reserve a long-term parking space for just $5 a day at any East Bay BART parking lot, except at the West Oakland and Coliseum/Oakland Airport stations.

With these benefits, we are sure to see continued steady growth of ridership on the SFO extension. It may not be quite as high as the original planners projected, as they could not have forseen the effects the dot-com boom and bust and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would have on ridership, but the extension is thriving.

It is a Bay Area success story, an important public works project that required tenacity, cooperation and years of hard work to achieve. That achievement is certainly worth celebrating this June.

Carole Ward Allen is the president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors.

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