Op-Ed: Bay Area transit agency needs a timeout or something

Posted Jul 22, 2015 by Nathan Salant
Call us old-fashioned. Go ahead, we can take it. If you're still dishing by the time we're done telling you what we think, we might even listen.
BART: Entrance to BART station at Oakland International Airport  which serves passengers on a people...
BART: Entrance to BART station at Oakland International Airport, which serves passengers on a people-mover system to travel from Coliseum Station to the airport along Hegenberger Road. The station opened last year.
Weegee010/Wikimedia Commons
We're talking about public transit here, and by public transit we're talking about something that is both public and transit -- at the same time!
We think you know what we're saying, that we think public transit systems are supposed to provide transit to the public -- but we still have a problem here, because the people running the Bay Area Rapid Transit system do not agree.
At least that's the message from BART headquarters in Oakland, where the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the transit system's customer access manager, Bob Franklin, is advising riders to "stay home" rather than use the buses BART hired for five days in August and September when the train tunnel under San Francisco Bay is shut down for repairs.
"We’re still encouraging people to stay on their side of the bay,” Franklin said Tuesday.
Did we hear that right? Don't go to work, don't go to San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley or any other city, don't go shopping, don't go out for lunch or dinner? What happened to 'find another way to travel,' make sure you 'hitch a ride,' 'learn the bus schedule,' or 'grab a taxi, a bicycle or a walk?'
Just "stay home" when the transbay tube is closed?
And this is a guy who helps run the country's fifth-largest regional transit system? How can that be?
Why aren't BART people saying they're going to try to help as many people as possible in the most efficient ways possible? That's really what the job's about, isn't it?
BART says the replacement buses are only "lifeline service" for people who have absolutely no other way to get around.
Talk about unclear on the concept!
Nobody rides transit anymore if they have another way to get where they're going; the trains are too crowded, dirty and unreliable despite billions in public investment.
Remember when we made those investments because public transit was more efficient and less stressful than commuting by car, and when the idea was that we would get more and more people to ride trains?
But those ideas have been buried under the weight of uninspired planning, poor budgeting, declining service and meaningless rhetoric from the top.
Remember when BART workers went on strike twice in 2013 and shut the system down for days, and how management and labor called each other names for days until Gov. Jerry Brown had to get involved?
The Bay Area deserves better than that. Management of the system is going to have to be revised, and the experience of riders has to be promoted to highest priority.
But about the summertime tube closures that begin shortly, trains will not be able to traverse the bay on Aug. 1 and 2, and again Sept. 5-7, to allow workers to install new track, replace supports at the eastern entrance to the tube and upgrade the train control system inside the tunnel.
To help keep commute traffic moving, BART has hired 94 buses to run trips from 19th Street Station in Oakland to the temporary Transbay Terminal at Howard and Beale streets in San Francisco, and has arranged the use of four ferry boats to provide additional commuter service.
BART's West Oakland Station will be closed for the five days.
Because of the extra buses, there will be traffic changes in San Francisco and Oakland. The Essex Street on-ramp to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco and the West Grand Avenue on-ramp in Oakland will be closed to regular traffic.
BART also is planning similar repair work next year near its San Leandro and Balboa Park stations that also is expected to require facility closures and replacement buses.
Information about next year's changes will be provided when it becomes available.