BART mulls service options during Transbay closure

BART officials Thursday discussed plans starting next February when trains will begin service one hour later as seismic upgrades are performed inside the 44-year-old Transbay Tube.

The transit agency estimates 2,900 riders during the first hour of service will have to take a bus into The City, or find an alternative.

BART staff presented two draft options to the BART of Board of Directors:

  • The first creates new AC Transit routes to San Francisco, enhancing existing early morning AC Transit routes, and works with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and SamTrans to explore more robust service during the closure.
  • A second option includes everything in the first option, plus additional express direct bus service to Transbay Transit Center. In the draft plan, buses would depart from the Pittsburg/Bay Point, Pleasant Hill, Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont stations.

BART has completed its first phase of the outreach, which included onboard and station surveys from riders who utilize the system 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Rider surveys —  1,367 of them — reflected mixed opinions. About one-third of riders rated the first option as either “excellent, good, or only fair” while more than half, 55 percent, evaluated it as “poor.”

The second option with additional bus service earned more favorable ratings. Forty-seven percent of riders rated plan with additional bus service as “excellent, good, or only fair.” Fourty-four percent rated the option as “poor.”

BART board President Robert Raburn said bus bridges during smaller closures — like during last Labor Day weekend — have been successful, though the duration of the proposed Transbay work is a different challenge:

“The ability to keep it up over two years, three years, is going to be a challenge for us. We need to make sure that we’re nimble at the offset to make the adjustments. Over-supply initially.”

Public concerns were also heard, including from Kelly Powers, with the Hotel Council of San Francisco. Powers said the council represents about 24,000 hotel workers who rely on BART in the early morning hours:

“We also want to make sure these employees are not unduly burdened economically by increased costs.”

Victoria Fierce with East Bay Homes For Everyone said any proposed bus bridge should provide at least the same service as BART trains.

BART plans to begin work at 9:30 p.m, with single-tracking in work zones through the midnight close of service. During that time, train frequency will slip to 24 minutes from 20. Fierce advocated for 15-minute frequency.

Paul Oversier, assistant general manager of BART operations, said he expected some bus service to be faster than a BART train, and some to be slower.

Taking BART from Pittsburg/ Bay Point into San Francisco takes about 53 minutes. By direct bus, the same trip would take 44 minutes, according to sample trip data from BART.

From 19th St/Oakland Station to San Francisco International Airport, though, would take eight minutes longer compared to a train.

Oversier also expressed concern that riders who wait 5 a.m. service begins could lead to crowded trains. Two plans could go into place, said Oversier. One plan would make sure trains are at maximum length, while the other could insert trains midline into BART routes.

Oversier said the cost any replacement bus service will be equal to less than a BART train.

BART Director Joel Keller, who represents Contra Costa County, said staff has spoken with riders at the new Antioch Station, the third-busiest station for commuters who begin their trips during the first hour of service.

Staff said they are planning for a second phase of outreach from September through February 2019, including talking to Antioch Station riders, community groups, hospitality and service workers, along with SFO employees.

BART is also considering options for riders who drive to stations who will not be able to access closed stations to pay for daily parking fees.

Staff anticipates taking a fresh draft of the bus and parking plan to the board in September.