Restoring the public's trust in BART
By Lou Fancher
BART's fleet of trains is so old that maintenance people regularly cannibalize one train to fix another, according to Gail Murray, an elected member of the public transportation organization's board of directors.
That was among the factoids that came out during a Jan. 17 League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley monthly program at the Lafayette Community Center. New cars, the money to pay for them and for myriad other needs, and regaining the public's trust were among the other main points of discussion.
Murray, a former Walnut Creek mayor, helms BART's District 1, an area running from Martinez through central county to San Ramon.
Establishing BART's importance to the local economy, Murray said the two strikes in 2013 and even a recent "Black Lives Matter" protest that had people banging on trains with spoons were enormously disruptive.
"The whole Bay Area unsettles when the trains stop," she said. "We need to build the trust back up with riders."
(That idea was affirmed last week, when results of a survey of 5,600 passengers showed overall satisfaction with BART service dropped from 84 percent in 2012 to 74 percent in 2014. That figure tied the low mark of 74 percent, set in 1998.)
BART employs 3,269 Bay Area residents, and riders spend about $400 million per year in retail purchases in San Francisco, Murray told those at the meeting.
BART was an idea "of progressives back in the 1940s who knew the area would grow," Murray said. Since 1972, when it began running, she said BART had "delivered what the voters voted on."
Immediately hearing "What about trains to Livermore" and other protests from the audience, Murray said politicians had made promises leading people to believe dreams were plans, but the initial plan included only parts of Alameda, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties. Extensions like those connecting Daly City to the SFO airport, or Concord and San Jose to the original system, have come because taxpayers have voted to approve additional funding.
Seventy percent of BART's operating costs come from fares. The rest comes from a portion of the funds raised by items like Measure J, a Contra Costa County half-cent transportation sales tax, and other federal and state tax revenue. With ridership jumping from 334,000 per day in 2010 to over 415,000 each day in 2014, Murray said the system is ripe for expansion, and that taxpayers should support new measure funding.
Three capital projects will bring 1,000 new cars to the fleet, projected to be in service by 2017, and provide a Hayward Maintenance Complex and Train Control Modernization. Funding for an eBART station in Pittsburg was approved in January, adding a piece to the planned 10-mile eBART line running from the existing Pittsburg-Bay Point station to Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch.
Murray said 775 of the new cars for the regular fleet are funded, but to meet demand, 225 more will be needed. Ten test cars arrive this year.
Asked if improvements have been made to curb the sound, Murray said yes, sort of.
"Inside, 'micro-plug' door seals will make it quieter," she said, "but the rail sound outside won't change."
Other improvements will add both comfort and ongoing challenges.
"The air conditioning will be above, not coming from the sides where it was blocked by passengers, and (fire-retardant) vinyl instead of cloth will cover the seats," Murray promised.
Poles are controversial, and present conflicts; they are still being discussed.
"We wanted poles so fragile people could immediately grab on, but people in wheelchairs say they are in the way," she explained.
Bike racks in cars also prompt ongoing debate. Bike space takes up an area that could accommodate 10 people standing up, wasted when there are no bikes. Flip seats -- a logical solution -- were taken out to avoid people fighting over the space, Murray said.
Upgrades to signage and lighting, large bay windows for increased visibility and lockers for bikes that will cost 3 to 5 cents an hour to rent are some of the improvements planned. With an estimated cost of $33,000 to build one parking space, Murray said the board (three members are elected from each of BART's three counties) is divided.
"San Francisco people say we should charge market rate for parking and then we'll have enough parking," she said. Shuttle buses, giving more BART money to County Connection and other options are being considered.
Several people at the League's program asked about extending evening hours or offering discounts to late-night riders to boost revenue. Murray said she favored raising fares for commuters during prime rush hours. Extending the West County line beyond Richmond is being studied, and a gasoline tax, if introduced in the state Legislature, would likely receive board support.