Low ridership imperils BART late-night weekend bus service

BART’s late-night bus service pilot program that increases AC Transit’s “All Nighter” bus service on Fridays and Saturdays could soon be in limbo if transit officials cannot identify funds to continue the program or find a more cost-effective way of running the service.

While a decision has not been made yet on whether to continue the service, BART board members discussed last Thursday at its regular meeting on the future of the service.

Bob Franklin, BART’s customer access manager, updated directors on ridership numbers and funding for the late-night service, and the news was grim:

“At the outset, BART set performance goals, which have fallen well short of being met.”

Franklin said while ridership on the AC Transit lines — 801 and 802 — have been modest, BART is only seeing a 2.2 percent and a projected 4 percent in 2016 of the farebox recovery ratio out of a 25 percent goal the transit agency had set.

BART also had a goal to make $100,000 annually in farebox revenue to help fund the late-night service.

The transit agency only took in $16,000 in 2015 and is projecting to make $20,000 in farebox revenue 2016. The projections for 2016 are based on invoices BART has received so far through June 2016 and ridership data through December 2016 from AC Transit, according to BART documents.

Franklin said that it would cost BART about $533,000 to continue the service for another year.

The transit agency is facing projected deficit of $25 to $31 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year and will need to find ways to close the deficit.

BART’s General Manager Grace Crunican confirmed with board members that staff is recommending to not continue funding the late-night bus service:

“The numbers don’t really justify the investment.”

BART’s late-night bus service began in December 2014 as way to help passengers get home from San Francisco to Oakland who work in late-night businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels,

Officials at BART worked with AC Transit to change some of the late-night service that AC Transit already had in service to help cater to BART passengers who work in the late-night entertainment industry and live in the East Bay.

Service was later changed in December 2015 by transit officials, eliminating Line 822 and having Line 800 and Line 801 run all night service with improved frequencies.

During the first year of service, BART contributed $200,000 with an additional $496,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), according BART documents. In 2016, BART contributed $750,000 to continue to late-night bus service pilot with $177,000 from the MTC.

While the pilot program will end on June 16, 2017, BART officials plan to extend the program at least through August 2017 to allow directors to discuss the program while going through the budget process and to also align with AC Transit operator sign ups.

BART board member Nick Josefowitz said while he understands the budget constraints that the transit agency is under, he said he could not just abandon the service:

“I think it would be really difficult for me to feel comfortable totally abandoning this program without really looking in great detail as to how we can try and sort of just focus on the most efficient service.”

Josefowitz suggested shortening the service hours to make the late-night service more of a shuttle bus between San Francisco and downtown Oakland as way to make the service more cost-effective.

Crunican said she would bring back a memo with AC Transit that will include options to present to the board at its next meeting in three weeks.

Another issue with the late-night bus service is that many riders are still unaware of the service, said BART board member Lateefah Simon:

“I think a lot of folks want to use these services and just don’t know where and how to access them.”