BART SFO ridership 40% under predictions
- Published Saturday, July 19, 2003, in the San Mateo County Times
BART's new hub starting out slow
BART has built airport extension, but in first month, riders haven't
By Justin Jouvenal
MILLBRAE -- The new BART station here is billed as a regional
transit hub, but since it opened June 22 it has decidedly lacked hub-
The station's platforms are thinly populated and its cavernous,
1,400-space parking garage has row upon row of empty spots.
Occasionally, San Francisco Airport-bound trains pull away with just
a few passengers.
Perhaps for these reasons it best symbolizes the first full-month of
service on the new $1.5 billion SFO extension. BART has built it,
but the riders haven't come -- at least not yet.
Ridership is running 40 percent below BART's pre-opening
predictions, although it is increasing week-to-week. The extension
is averaging 24,400 trips a weekday, and it carried more than
493,000 riders through July 15. BART officials predicted some 39,500
a day would hop on the new line this month.
Ridership grew by 6 percent between the extension's first week and
the week of July 6, the last full week for which BART has tallied
Of the 12,400 reserved parking spaces on the extension, riders have
only snapped up permits for about 4,100 spaces. And revenue is
running roughly 29 percent below what was budgeted -- bad news for
SamTrans, which must pay for the operations of the extension.
County Supervisor Mike Nevin called the opening month a product of
"We couldn't have picked a worse time to open BART from the
perspective of the economy and the summer months," Nevin said. "But
it's still too early to make a judgment. In the long run we've built
it and the ridership will happen."
BART and SamTrans officials believe the numbers will pick up this
fall as school resumes and people return from vacations.
Some rail advocates say BART and SamTrans should take steps to perk
up ridership. Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail
Passengers Association of California, said he would like to see a
60- to 90-day break on the extension's $2-a-day parking fees to
entice people onto trains.
"It's not unusual when businesses start up to have a discount or
double bonus," Silver said. "They need to do something sexy to get
people in there."
The low ridership has defied predictions, but so have travel
patterns. BART officials predicted Millbrae would be the extension's
busiest station, but so far SFO has been the highlight.
It is seeing 6,500 trips a day, nearly what BART officials projected
for the station and roughly 50 percent more than Millbrae's 4,600
trips. About 16,000 trips were projected to use the Millbrae station
The South San Francisco station averaged 2,700 trips and San Bruno
averaged 2,500 trips for July. BART projected the stations would
handle 3,800 and 4,400 trips, respectively.
It's less clear how the new extension has affected Caltrain, which
connects with BART at the Millbrae station. Officials said they will
not perform a ridership survey until September, when the slow summer
season is over.
Officials are seeing some positive anecdotal signs.
"There appeared to be an increase in the number of riders accessing
Caltrain from Millbrae," said Jayme Maltbie Kunz, a Caltrain
Though ridership has been lackluster, riders are largely giving the
BART extension high marks for its convenience and service. They
reported no major problems.
"The only big mistake they've made is not building the extension 20
or 30 years ago," said Todd Stress, who was boarding a San Francisco-
bound train at Millbrae. "I will be using it quite a bit."
Kingsley Okereke, a San Mateo resident, has been commuting to work
on BART since it opened. At the Millbrae station Friday, he said the
new line has met his expectations.
"I haven't noticed any glitches," he said. "It's easy to navigate
the stations and there's ample parking. I only wished it would
stretch to San Mateo."
Some riders and one BART employee said there are details BART could
"We need more signs, especially in the parking garages," said the
BART employee, who did not want his name used.
Several riders at the Millbrae station said signs aren't clear or
visible enough and many are confused by the parking procedures.
Riders pay for parking at BART ticket machines in the stations, but
many said they initially circled the parking garages looking for
The BART employee thinks it will only be a matter of time before the
stations fill up.
"People on the Peninsula have been dealing without BART for 30
years," he said. "BART's asking people to come on board, but it's
not going to be an instantaneous thing."
BART-to-SFO's first month
Ridership by station: Average weekday trips (Projected ridership)
2,735 ( 3,820 proj.) South San Francisco
2,509 ( 4,471 proj.) San Bruno
6,514 ( 6,569 proj.) SFO
4,599 (15,981 proj.) Millbrae
24,437 (45,800 Proj.) Total
Figures are for June 22 to July 15.
[BATN: The total for the 4 new stations show above adds up to only
16,357 -- NOT 24,437 (which evidently includes 8,080 riders from the
pre-existing Colma station). However, the 68,600 BART/SFO EIR-
projected 2010 total ridership reportedly DOES NOT include Colma