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Low ridership could derail new BART SFO extension

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  • 9/26 SF Business Times
    Published Friday, September 26, 2003, in the San Francisco Business Times Low riders could derail BART line By Eric Young With ridership along its new
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      Published Friday, September 26, 2003, in the San Francisco Business Times

      Low riders could derail BART line

      By Eric Young

      With ridership along its new Peninsula extension running far below
      expectations, BART may be pushed to reduce service in order to pare
      back operating costs.

      BART does not want to cut back the frequency of trains. But officials
      at SamTrans, the San Mateo county transit agency paying all the
      operating costs for the 8.7-mile extension, say they will run through
      the $6 million they've set aside by the end of this year if they are
      not able to renegotiate with BART.

      "This is critical right now," said Michael Nevin, a San Mateo County
      supervisor and board member of the San Mateo County Transit District.
      "I want to review this contract" with BART, he said. "We can't help
      run BART such that we hurt the rest of our operations at SamTrans."

      BART trains running along the extension -- which has stops in South
      San Francisco, San Bruno, San Francisco International Airport and
      Millbrae -- carry about 25,000 passengers daily, compared to
      anticipated ridership of around 42,000. [BATN: Note 1] That means
      SamTrans is not collecting as much fare revenue as anticipated.

      As part of a deal with BART, SamTrans agreed to help pay for the
      construction of the $1.5 billion extension, putting $250 million
      toward that project. [BATN: note 2] Now SamTrans can collect fare
      money on trips that begin or end in San Mateo County.

      BART officials said cutting back service might only serve to dissuade
      travelers from using BART service along the Peninsula.

      "One way to grow ridership is to provide good service," said Tom
      Margro, BART general manager. "Anything we go needs to take that into
      account." He said BART would prefer to look at changes to programs
      such as parking charges or other issues that don't impact train
      frequency. [BATN: Note 3]

      He said some stations along the extension are doing well, including
      the stop at SFO, which saw about 7,200 riders a day in August.
      [BATN: Not some, but ALL the other stops are far below "predictions."]
      But the Millbrae stop, a transit hub, is well below anticipated
      ridership. About 5,200 riders use that stop each day, compared to
      about 16,000 anticipated.

      BART and SamTrans said they hope ridership along the entire Peninsula
      increases with school back in session and the local economy giving
      signs of perking up.


      Eric Young covers transportation for the San Francisco Business Times.


      [BATN notes:

      (1) The quoted $1.5 billion extension does NOT include financing
      costs, some of which are being borne by SamTrans.

      (2) BART appears to be including Colma as part of the extension, even
      though it opened in 1996 and was part of an entirely separate project.

      (3) The same BART officials objecting to reducing SamTrans-underwritten
      service reduced the level of service between the Richmond line and San
      Francisco lines in order to run the extension.

      SamTrans is paying to operate over 300 BART trains per day on the
      extension. At fewer than 25,000 riders per weekday, that means the
      average train, which costs $1,000 per hour to operate, is carrying
      fewer than 85 riders. Even if BART were to make all parking free, it
      is unlikely that more than a couple thousand extra riders would take
      the train, meaning that the 700-seat BART trains will still be running
      more than 88% empty -- all at SamTrans' expense.]
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