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.
(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.]