Discussion related to commuter rail and transit operators in California past and present including Los Angeles Metrolink and Metro Subway and Light Rail, San Diego Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Trolley, Altamont Commuter Express (Stockton), Caltrain and MUNI (San Francisco), Sacramento RTD Light Rail, and others...

Moderator: lensovet

  by Gilbert B Norman
This article appearing today in The Times reports that BART has lost more COVID era ridership than any other mass transit agency.

Fair Use:
Weekday ridership on BART is down to 32 percent of what it was before the pandemic began, punctuating a desperate moment for San Francisco. Without daily foot traffic, major retailers are abandoning downtown, and analysts believe the city core has yet to bottom out. Homeless encampments and open drug use have further discouraged visitors, while passengers have complained about safety and a lack of cleanliness.
San Francisco has been hard hit because so many tech workers have come to realize that they are just that - workers!!!

All the plaudits in the world cannot mask that to the companies, they are expendable. Their production comes from knowledge and to present that output to their "massahs" does not require physical presence in an office.

Additionally, the reported deterioration of downtown San Francisco has transformed such from a tourist magnet to an area that is to be avoided.
  by HenryAlan
BART is a very unique system, in that it blends an RER/regional rail type model with a subway/urban transit type model. But fundamentally, and the article points this out, it mostly serves to bring outlying commuters to the core. So the question becomes, why has that not come back stronger? Here in Boston, the commuter rail has proven one of the more resilient components of the system, with ridership rates nearly as high now as they were pre-COVID. Buses have made a similar comeback, which might be connected to the nature of the work done by the key bus riding demographic, not lending itself so well to remote options. It is the subway that has seen the least bounce back, but that is most likely due to the subway experiencing some serious maintenance and staffing issues that have forced reduced headways. The trains are full, but less frequent.

So again, why has BART failed so spectacularly when similar purpose systems in similar cities have managed to show more life in them?
  by RandallW
Part of the low ridership is that of the 10 largest metro areas, San Francisco remains 8th in returning to work in offices (ahead of Philadelphia and San Jose (also part of the "Bay Area")). Part of this is that major tech employers in SF have been laying off employees, part of that is that the companies that enable remote work are mostly SF / Silicon Valley companies. That has also led to a situation where driving and parking are easier, and given the SF reputation as a dangerous place, leads to those who can driving, driving in preference to using public transport.

What I'm getting at is that it may not be BART that is failing where other transit organizations are recovering, but that BART is in an area is establishing a new post-pandemic normal differently than other locations where transit agencies have seen stronger recoveries.
  by Gilbert B Norman
RandallW wrote: Tue Jun 20, 2023 10:53 am That has also led to a situation where driving and parking are easier,
An interesting observation, Mr. Randall W.

There are those out there (my Father's second wife after my Mother deceased being one) who are all in favor of mass transit. Why? "Get those cars off the roads so I can get around easier".
  by lensovet
Randall is right on the money here. This is an SF (and Bay Area) problem, not a BART one. The lack of a desire to be back in the office extends beyond tech. Of course having a rather apocalyptic downtown doesn’t help, and towns in the South Bay never had any real downtowns to speak of to begin with.
  by The EGE
Some thoughts from a (current) local:
  • As mentioned, the Bay Area economy becoming so homogenously based on tech means that the shift to WFH and the shrinking of the tech sector have hit downtown particularly hard. Without a reason to take regional trips for work, trips have shifted more locally. Muni, for example, is at ~60% ridership recovery - twice that of BART.
  • The Bay Area, especially SF, is no longer a livable place if you don't make a ridiculous salary. The poverty line in SF is - no joke - about $100k. Not only can you not live here on minimum wage, you can't even live here on a middle-class salary (which hardly exists here any more anyway). Housing costs are ridiculous, local interference makes building more near-impossible, and NIMBYs nuke every transit project. (Witness what's happening with Geary BRT, where businesses are holding up bus lanes on the country's busiest bus corridor over a handful of parking spaces.)
  • And because of all that, homelessness is through the roof. Only a tiny fraction of those in need are actually able to get housing vouchers, and landlords blatantly discriminate against those who do. Trains become de facto homeless shelters, and BART has long runs and fare control (i.e, pay one fare and you can ride back and forth all day) that make it the most attractive option. Being homeless and having mental health crises - and using drugs to deal with the suffering of both - go hand in hand. It's a systemic failure, and everyone - homeless people and riders - pays the price.
  • Separately, there's definitely been a rise in antisocial behavior among those who have no excuse. As a tame example, roughly 10% of the time I get on a train, someone is smoking, making the whole car uninhabitable. There's no one who's both willing and able to stop such behaviors - the train operators are powerless, and the BART cops rarely show unless they're hoping to shoot someone.
  • BART has been shooting itself in the foot even since pre-COVID. The Transbay Tube retrofit has been particularly clumsy. Years of the first hour of service (quite well-used) replaced by buses. Years of Sunday single-tracking with poorly-designed schedules resulting in crowding and massive delays. Half-hour headways after 9pm, even on the SF-Oakland-Berkeley core of the system. Fares higher than buses, with ridiculous surcharges on airport trips. Still no efficient transfer to Muni Metro at shared stations.