More Shocking BART/Phase II News

On March 21st 2023 the San Jose Mercury’s Eliyahu Kamisher provided important new information about the VTA’s grotesquely ill-conceived BART Phase II extension, the projected cost of which has increased from $4.8 billion in February 2018 to today’s astounding $9.5 billion.

Unfortunately, the VTA’s ridership forecasts have proven to be no more accurate than its cost estimates. Back when the BART extension was first being promoted zealots were projecting 70,000 riders a day or more by 2040. The VTA later reduced these rosy early projections to a total of 54,600 riders a day at the four Phase II stations. On April 14th the San Jose Mercury reported that a new federally-mandated forecast had dropped the projected 2040 ridership by another 40% to just 32,900 riders a day.

If this latest ridership estimate is accurate, it would mean that under no circumstances could a project cost of anything close to $9.5 billion be justified.

Time to Shut Down BART’s Link 21 Project

BART’s Link 21 program envisions a multi-billion-dollar passenger rail network throughout northern California, beginning with a $29 billion second subaqueous rail tube between Oakland and San Francisco. During the last year BATWG spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to figure out whether or not BART’s Link 21 team was making progress. What we do know is that over the last four years, BART’s small Link 21 team, with five private consultants reporting separately to it, has burned through over a hundred million dollars.

So, what exactly has been accomplished in four years for this large planning expenditure?

Thanks to the arcane structure of the Link 21 management hierarchy, coupled with BART’s obvious reluctance to reveal anything substantive about the project, taxpayers remain in the dark about how their tax money is being spent. In early January some rudimentary conceptual engineering sketches belatedly appeared on the Link 21 website that seemed to indicate progress. On January 14, 2023, after reviewing the sketches, BATWG submitted thirteen questions to the BART Board, which were both timely and deserving of answers.

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BART Moving Ahead with Plans to Reduce Fare Evasion

BART has sucked up more of the Region’s transit funding than any other agency, but when it gets it right it deserves recognition.

An LA Metro Link Fare Gate

After a long slow start, BART has now picked up the pace and is both accelerating its “station hardening” program (making it harder to evade fares) and making better and more effective use of its police and unarmed “ambassadors”. Combating fare evasion is a tricky business because to be effective a reform program has to address all of the different ways that are used to evade payment.

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Large Transit Agencies Clamor for New Funding while Ignoring Cost-Cutting Opportunities

Dick Spotswood of the Independent Journal hits it on the head. Here are excerpts from his excellent article on the sad state of current Bay Area transit affairs.

“Raising Bay Area bridge tolls can’t be about preserving transit staff members”


PUBLISHED: March 7, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. | UPDATED: March 7, 2023 at 10:36 a.m.

“The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is in the early “talking stage” of creating a 2024 regional ballot measure to raise auto and truck tolls on Bay Area bridges. If this plan moves forward, it will be the fourth measure to raise the cost of transbay commuting. The last one, Regional Measure 3, passed in 2018. A collective majority vote in the nine Bay Area counties is needed for passage.

“The supposed purpose of a potential fourth measure is to aid Bay Area transit agencies who’ve seen declines in patronage and fare-box revenue, in part due to post-pandemic changes on how and where white-collar men and women work.

“Any possible regional measure needs to be followed with an eagle eye. In the worst case, it would create a treasure box of toll revenue ultimately spent in ways only loosely related to their supposed purpose. The next funding package could even include a wildly expensive bike lane of dubious utility on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. [Who in his or her right mind would commute 20 to 35 miles a day via a cold, noisy and windy bridge over 20 stories high?]

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Caltrain Needs to Pull it All Together

A Stadler Electrified Train

In BATWG’s March 2023 newsletter we noted that given its major capital and new equipment programs in process, its staggering ridership losses, and its large and growing operating deficit, the hardest part of Caltrain’s development program lies ahead. For these reasons it appears that the following actions are needed:

  • get entirely out of the diesel operating business as soon as its new all-electric trains are up and running,
  • take full advantage of other opportunities to cut costs, including cutting service and eliminating or reducing employee categories as necessary,
  • work with other agencies to accommodate those now using Caltrain south of the Diridon Station,
  • benefit from the significant operating advantages of level boarding as soon as possible and
  • interact intensively and effectively with the TJPA right up to the time Caltrain is up and running in the Salesforce Transit Center, as well as with other involved agencies such as the San Jose County VTA and its Diridon Station program.

Subsequently, Caltrain’s Board held a budget workshop on April 6th. Staff and consultants laid out their preliminary budget planning inputs for FY2024 and FY2025 as well as operating and capital cost, ridership and revenue premises for the next ten years. Among their proposals and findings:

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Bay Area: Fresh Thinking Needed!

On December 16, 2021 writer, analyst and world-acclaimed transportation consultant Alan Pisarski, in a discussion with BATWG members, suggested five ways in which the transit agencies should alter their programs because of COVID and the resulting societal changes.

From his remarks it was clear that Pisarski thought the dogged determination of some local and regional agencies to proceed assuming that everything would soon “get back to “normal” was most unwise. His recommendations were valid then and remain so today. Here they are:

First he recommended a “moratorium on all expansion-based transportation investment”.

Next, he recommended that the focus be on restoring and modernizing existing systems.

Third, he recommended that a high priority be placed upon determining the long-term impact of the work-at-home trend.

Fourth, he called on the transit agencies to be “responsive to the accessibility needs of lower-income populations”. To this end he encouraged the use of buses, vans and jitneys.

Finally, Mr. Pisarski called for a “strong focus on private sector solutions—utilizing disruptive technologies, capable of responding rapidly to evolving traffic patterns.”

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