BART’s Very Able Inspector General Leaving

BART has long been recognized as an agency in dire need of independent oversight. In June of 2019, pursuant to State Senator Steve Glazer’s SB1488, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Harriet Richardson to be BART’s first Inspector General (IG) from among three candidates selected by the BART Board. The job calls for the IG to oversee BART’s finances and report upon any instances of “waste, fraud and abuse”.

Under Ms. Richardson’s able leadership the small IG staff, despite being hindered by the BART staff, Board and Unions, and denied the resources needed to fully cover BART’s vast operation, has been remarkably diligent and successful in identifying and reporting on a large number of inefficient and otherwise improper BART activities. Most of her recommendations have been adopted by BART and some have been put in place.

We are sorry to report that Ms. Richardson has decided not to put her name in the running for reappointment when her four-year term expires in June. It can only be hoped that her successor will be as fiercely independent and effective as she has been.

For Caltrain, More Hard Work to Come

At BATWG’s January 19, 2023, meeting, Clem Tillier was our Special Guest. Mr. Tillier, despite having a full-time hi-tech job, through his volunteer efforts has also managed to become very knowledgeable about the Caltrain operation and its developmental needs. At our meeting he made a number of observations as to what lies ahead for Caltrain. He emphasized the importance of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board (JPB) and staff to begin adapting to Caltrain’s pending new operational and fiscal conditions sooner rather than later.

Caltrain’s nineteen Stadler train sets, each consisting of six EMU’s, will soon begin arriving. While converting from diesel to electric operation may sound like a straightforward transition, it’s not, especially in a time of severe budgetary constraints.

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Common Sense Gone Missing

As was graphically pointed out in presentations by MTC, BART, the MTA and Caltrain at a meeting of the SFCTA on February 28, 2023, Bay Area transit systems are having to adapt to greatly reduced post-COVID ridership, escalating operating and development costs and uncertainties over whether or not the generous State and federal subventions of the past will continue. Unfortunately, these problems are occurring at a time when public confidence in the ability of the large transit agencies to operate efficiently and improve their services in an effective manner has declined. So what happened? What went wrong? How can trust in local and regional agencies be re-established?

It appears that a reduction in the quality of daily transit service and the mismanagement of certain large infrastructure projects are at least partly responsible for the problem:

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Central Subway – San Francisco’s Great Loss 

Central Subway evolved as the product of an insufferable lack of insight, common sense and competence, from beginning to end and top to bottom.

For Willie Brown it was a handshake.  He neither knew nor cared how his agreement with Rose Pac would be carried out.

As Mayor, Gavin Newsom let it all happen without knowing or caring about either the outcome or the cost.

For Speaker Pelosi, it was strictly political pork.

So the project was left to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), which gummed things up from start to finish.  Back in 2008 and 2009 it began with a big lie.  MTA sold its project to the public and elected officials based upon grossly inflated ridership projections and absurdly exaggerated trip time savings, coupled with a real whopper about how the Central Subway was going to save Muni $23.8 million a year in annual operating costs.

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BART’s Link 21 Project: Questions in Need of Answers

BART began work on the Link 21 program in 2019. As of the end of 2022, $82 million been spent…with little to show for the effort but a preliminary marketing plan subject to significant revision and the sketchy sketch plans shown below. Mostly we hear of lofty goals and projections and vague conclusions.

On January 14, 2023 the Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) sent an open Letter to the BART Board. Here are extracts from that letter; graphics added:

“BATWG has now completed an initial review of the six alternatives your staff placed on the Link21 website in January of this year.

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Looking Forward

The Bay Area transit agencies were not always so dysfunctional as they now seem to be. Here are three successful transit improvement projects all of which proceeded efficiently and without fanfare,

Baby Bullets: Caltrain’s new Baby Bullet system opened in 2004. This successful project was created with minimum cost by the simple act of rearranging the train service to better fit the needs of local, middle-distance and long-distance riders. The new system was instantly popular and Caltrain ridership surged.

E-BART Extension: BART’s e-BART extension from the Pittsburgh/Bay Point BART terminal to Antioch was completed in 2018. By using Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s) and existing standard gauge track, BART completed the 10-mile extension at moderate cost. The result is a fast and reliable e-BART service that today links the DMU’s to regular BART trains via a convenient cross-platform transfer. The system was an immediate success, to the point where the size of the access parking lots had to be doubled.

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