BART to Study Feasibility of Running Later Weekend Trains

Image: Make BART Trains Run 24 Hours Facebook page
Image: Make BART Trains Run 24 Hours Facebook page

Anyone who has tried to go out on Friday or Saturday night to a concert or a show across the Bay from where they live understands the challenge posed by BART’s relatively early closing hours. Some people try to find a couch to sleep on, some don’t go out as long as they’d like or find themselves rushing to get that 12:15 am train. Still others choose to drive, and if the late-night swerving traffic on the Bay Bridge is any measure, some of them are partially intoxicated.

On the other hand, BART runs trains as long or longer than many systems in the world, with the notable exception of New York City’s subways. The few hours each night that BART isn’t operational provide maintenance staff with invaluable time to do the necessary service on facilities to keep the agency’s excellent safety record in place. If there were fewer hours for fixing the system, the conventional wisdom goes, breakdowns and mechanical problems would compromise service and safety.

BART’s new board president Bob Franklin announced today that he would like to revisit that conventional wisdom and have a public discussion about whether the system could run later on weekends without hurting performance. Franklin, who was elected today to serve a one-year term as president of the board, enumerated his many priorities and said the agency hadn’t seriously examined its service hours policy since it started running 4 am trains following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

“I’m sure people are driving when they shouldn’t be because there isn’t a fast, reliable transit option open late,” Franklin told Streetsblog. He also noted that he gets questions from the public all the time, asking why trains can’t run longer hours. Franklin said the Facebook group “Make BART Trains Run 24 Hours” has over 22,000 fans, though he acknowledged it would be impossible to run trains around the clock and keep the system safe.

One solution, according to Franklin, would be to see if the agency could move the 4 am start time on weekdays to 5 am, applying the extra operating hour from that change to either or both nights on the weekend. He also wanted to see if the agency would consider not running certain late night trains to the terminus stations, if that would improve the feasibility of the concept.

“The only way we could potentially explore that is if we were to start later,” he said, though he admitted pushing the starting time back will impact a different set of riders in the morning.

According to Franklin, there are 2400 people getting on and off BART during 4-5 am hour on weekdays, many of them going from further flung stations to the Financial District to coincide with the opening of the New York stock market (compare that with 78,000 at the 7-8 am peak hour, he said)

“[Our opening hour is] an outlier of the transit industry,” he said.

BART hasn’t done a rigorous study on changing operating times in several decades, but they will convene a meeting of staff and board members to discuss the matter further, said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson.

Johnson reiterated Franklin’s assumption that the early morning riders were primarily financial sector workers, who he noted are some of BART’s most loyal riders.

“There’s no question there are lots of people who would love to see all-night BART, me included, but as somebody who works for the agency, I know why we don’t have it,” said Johnson. As for the shift in early morning trains, Johnson said, “It would jeopardize our bread and butter commuters. We have to get our commuters to work so that they can be at work when the New York Stock Exchange opens.”

Johnson also noted a list of other complications for changing the start and end times, including maintenance schedules, coordination with Muni to staff shared San Francisco stations for longer hours, changes to connecting bus service, union contracts and whether the late-night ridership numbers would compensate for the early morning loss.

Johnson also questioned the early morning numbers Franklin provided to Streetsblog, suggesting that they don’t capture all the people who benefit from the early service.

Both Franklin and Johnson agreed that much more data is needed and the planning meetings will help resolve some of the outstanding questions.

For Franklin, there is value just in the process of debating the merits of the schedule in a public format.

“I’d like to see if we can make some minor changes,” he said. “If we can, I think it will be a winner for BART. If we can’t, I think it will be an opportunity to explain to the public why not.”

  • Tyler

    Finally. It is just silly to have a public transportation system like BART in place to help with the DUI epidemic in the Bay Area. One of the main reasons why I never went bar hopping in my youth in SF was because BART didn’t run late enough.

  • Or even just have an after-hours bus system that runs the same routes and schedules as BART and, ideally, accepts BART farecards. The problem with the existing late-night service isn’t that it doesn’t exist, but that it is fragmented and confusing.

  • Michael Smith

    As President of the Board can Bob Franklin fire the BART spokesperson for contradicting him and speaking out against improving service?? Does BART staff actually pay attention to the members of the Board who are supposed to be running the system?

    Some things to note:
    * BART doesn’t even start running until about 6am on Saturdays and 8am on Sundays (which is outrageously late). That means for weekends they already have enough time to run later service.
    * The stock market opens at 6:30am PST. Having BART start at 5am instead of 4am on weekdays would still provide those poor beleaguered stock brokers enough time to get to work before the market opens.

  • Even if the change affected stock brokers wouldn’t we gain a lot more ridership and revenue from late night riders? Maybe not, but it would seem like it. I actually think the transbay 800 bus (runs from market and van ness to berkeley through oakland, every half hour sat and sun nights) is OK. They are always good about letting one bring a bike on board if the front rack is full. What gets me about it is if I’ve had a bit to drink and then I’m riding a rickety bus and well you know…

    I also like the idea of not running these late trains past Walnut Creek or Castro Valley say during the late night runs. The vast majority of those folks drive to BART anyhow, and if you are planning to come back late, you would just have to drive to the next closest stop where the train will drop you off at night.

    J

  • Bob Davis

    The later the better; we have similar situation in the LA area where I’ve had to leave musical events before last song was sung because the Gold Line pulled in earlier than I would like. Taxicabs would provide the late-night/early AM transport, but to get me home from where most of the music is, a cab would cost as much as a train trip to San Francisco.

  • Abe

    The earlier BART runs in the morning, the earlier we’re all expected to be at work. The later BART runs the more freedom we have after work.

    Who does BART work for?

    Ask James Fang. He seems to want a workforce that can be paid suburban wages to work in SF.

    Does BART help you live car-free or does it help keep your wages competitive with (read: as low as) east bay/rural jobs.

    Why else would they build extensions out to Pittsburg or Dublin?

  • Nick

    One fact in this piece disturbs me (and it is uncharachterisically poor fact-checking on the part of Streetblog):

    -How exactly was it determined that the 2400 early morning riders mainly work in the stock exchange?

    Were they asked what field they worked in? Was a survey taken? Or were they financially-profiled for lack of a better term?

    And is the Facebook page using this selective interpretation to push a moral judgement on the rest of us? That it is ok to delay their workday because the masses (the rest of us) do not like drunk drivers.

    And if there is a moral judgement involved: why should BART accomodate drunk hipsters at the expense of the well-educated? is there a reason they can’t get drunk in the East Bay?

  • Nick – Streetsblog was quoting the BART president. It is however pretty easy to profile those riders based on where they get off the train.

    The Facebook page isn’t pushing a moral judgement on anyone. This is a democracy and a capitalist society, one rife with politics. If they prefer late night service, it’s their right to try to get it. If they have enough support, they’ll get it. If not, they won’t. QED. Happens all the time – BART pushed back the first trains on the weekend, now I can’t take BART to SFO for an early flight. I’ll have to adjust. I don’t like it, but that’s what I’ll do.

    Sheesh.

  • ryan

    and can you please come to San Jose? PLEASE?

  • I’ve been riding BART since the first day it opened. I even walked the entire system while it was being built ( got permission, my girlfriends Father was a BART design engineer ).

    I have never understood why BART can’t run a once an hour train after midnight to at least allow people to get home. I hate having to leave friend’s houses to rush to BART before they close at midnight.

    Does the New York subway shut down all night to do maintenance ?

    Does the Paris Metro or Moscow subway or DC subway do so ?

    Nope.

    Paris closes at 1:30 am

    Moscow closes at 1: 00 am

    DC closes at 3:00 am

    If they can do it, why can’t BART ?

    Remember that our tax dollars and fares fund the system and the directors cushy jobs.

    Let them know you want it open later.

    And while you’re at it, mention that you’d like to be able to go to San Jose before you die.

    We’ve all waited long enough to see BART open service to San Jose & who hasn’t had to rush to Cal Train in order to get back to SF on time as well ?

  • CACuzcatlan

    Even a last train at 1:00 would be great for concerts, since they usually end (in my experience) between 11:30 and 12:30.

  • Jennifer

    Well about that maintenance story….I guess I don’t understand why so very much money goes to things like an unnecessary link from the Coliseum to the Oak Airport, or to the endless suburban connections, when the maintenance is so dire. Are there no big picture fixes we should be funding that would then allow us to support 24 hour(ish) service for the urban majority? It seems like these decisions, and my pet peeve — the upholstery and the carpeting — are all a part of some wrong idea of a suburban commuter train (Abe’s theory above makes scary much sense), when what we want and need is a hard working, long hours, fast moving system with floors, hard seats and some indiscriminate application of bleach and hot water. And I would like to see the math about how local economies benefit from early morning versus late night hours….Berkeley is working on an arts and entertainment district that would benefit from late night, and everyone wants the right to see cultcha in Oakland or San Francisco without turning into pumpkins….and I’m sorry if we’re rewarding “loyalty” to BART I need to see the math on that one too! 2400 “bread and butter” commuters?

  • Sean H

    At the very least, select weekends should be explored. I remember Halloween 2009, the bridge was closed for unexpected delays in construction, it was daylight savings, and we got absolute GIFT: BART all night. Every drinking holiday weekend should have 24hr service, Fri, Sat.

    Why not get Caltrans, CHP, or some sort of social organization like MADD to pay for it?

    PS. Im not a finance worker, but my old roomates had to get to work before the market opened for a conference call every morning.

  • EL

    I wonder if Mr. Franklin remembers the BART maintenance worker who died two years ago while performing maintenance on a live track.

    http://www.kron.com/News/ArticleView/tabid/298/smid/1126/ArticleID/939/reftab/36/t/BART-Cited-for-Safety-Violations-Related-to-Worker-s-Death/Default.aspx

    Reducing maintenance hours and increasing service hours has its (unforeseen) consequences too.

  • patrick

    Are they doing required safety maintenance during every hour of the night that BART is closed? If not, they can easily shift the maintenance to the available unused slots without any impact.

    I would also prefer scheduled closures when necessary for maintenance. If they ran later hours, but every once in a while, with ample prior notice and sign postings shut down a little early to do maintenance, I feel it would be a vast improvement than always shutting down early.

    Given that other systems already have longer service hours, I suspect there’s a way for BART to do it.

  • @Nick,
    Oh if only we had a budget for fact checkers! This team of two (about to be one) does the best it can, but when there is a fact that I can’t verify, then I will attribute it to someone and characterize it the way I did. Interestingly, BART hadn’t yet run the numbers to be able to verify that piece of information. It was Franklin who went through their spread sheets and added up the total number.

    I think I was clear in calling it “Franklin’s assumption,” though you see Linton had the same assumption.

    That said, they don’t have the data yet to verify or contradict that assumption, which is the point of the study.

  • Bob Franklin

    Perhaps my assumption that the 4am to 5am riders work in the financial sector is too broad. What I do know is that the majority of early morning riders get off at Embarcadero, Montgomery and Powell. I also know anecdotally that when there is a problem in early morning service, people do mention that they are going to work early to coincide with workers in New York and in the financial sector. A more precise breakdown of the ridership will be developed in the coming weeks.

  • david vartanoff

    first, Chicago also runs some all night subway routes. second, BART could easily and safely run limited all night service without sabotaging maintenance. How you ask. Same as what they do for major trackwork during revenue service–single tracking. Slightly degraded service can be provided with several segments OOS for maintenance. BTW, does Franklin know what these maintenance forces do to fill out an 8 hour shift given the 3 hour window now vailable?

    As to the safety issue raised above, while NO system is perfect, BART did not have as thorough a safety protocol as many RRs do in these situations.

    And I too resent the “Cinderella Liberty” for music.

  • gmoney

    I cannot believe it has taken this long for this discussion to take place. This poorly written article merely scratches the surface. First of all, the people most affected by the lack of late night service are those who work in the service and bar industry. All you would have to do is run a 215 and 315am train to give those workers a secure ride home. I have a really hard time believing that BART cannot figure out a way to make this happen. Streetsblog should interview some of the BART employees to get a different perspective. I have a feeling the main motivation for not having late night service has more to do with having to pay workers to staff the stations rather than any maintenance safety concerns. They could do it. We gotta pressure them to do it.

  • david vartanoff

    some history here. When BART opened, AC provided robust service to the East Bay. That withered to zero in the 90s after which serious agitation for BART overnight flared up. Directly after Loma Prieta there had been all night service but as soon as the bridge reopened ridership dropped (and it was several years before bridge usage recovered. Indeed restaurants, merchants and music venues were in serious trouble for several years after the quake. There was increased pressure for all night service during the dot com boom as many service workers were priced out of SF. After RM2 (IINM) was passed dedicated funding was given to AC to restore skeletal transbay bus service. It isd slow, and for many riders involves a transfer @ 14th & Bway in Oakland (which is usually mitigated by police presence and timedmeets with the other buses.

    All of that said I too want all night service having previously lived in both Chicago and NYC. I will say that service east of the hills might be less necessary, yet I knew a falafel shop counterman working near 16th/Mission who lived near Pittsburg.

    BART has previously said all night service was only possible on systems such as NY which has multi track mainlines. While many NY lines do have express tracks, several of the busiest lines in Manhattan and many branches in the outer boros are two tracks just like BART. FWIW the same is true of most of the Chicago routes running owl service.

  • “BART runs trains as long or longer than many systems in the world, with the notable exception of New York City’s subways”

    Perhaps you mean longer than many systems in the United States? Many subway systems in Europe run later than BART.

  • Alex

    @EL Go listen to the BART radio on radioreference.com. I bet you’d be surprised how often they have maintenance workers on the tracks during normal business hours without closing things down or single tracking. Quite often they advise the workers of three things:

    – to be aware that there are trains on both tracks in all directions
    – to “provide your own protection”
    – to not interfere with mainline operations

    I agree that this is a less than ideal situation and that running all-night service would probably make this worse. However, I don’t think this is a necessary evil of all-night service. The real problem I see is that this is proposing running expensive, high capacity vehicles for very lightly used service. Late night bus service would be just fine, and likely quite a bit cheaper.

    @Tyler How does that work? The 14 runs 24×7, and the 91 will get you to Balboa Park. Glen Park is the only BART station that doesn’t get direct service from a MUNI OWL route.

  • I dont understand the maintenance angle at all.

    Yes, maintenance may be done on Tuesdays at 1am…but on a Sunday? of course not.

    Just do what DC does. Run later on weekends and charge a higher fare for it.

    Friday: 4am until 2:30 am Saturday
    Saturday: 6am until 2:30 am Sunday
    Sunday: 7am until midnight.

  • david vartanoff

    @Alex and all. Quite correct about maintenance during service time.

    As to the expense, in time 24/7 service will bring parts of the Bay Area into a 24/7 culture–a good thing in my view.

  • Joel V

    I don’t buy Johnson’s excuses. If the public really pushed for this, it could be done. Union contracts, maintenace schedules, these are things that could be worked out. Plenty of people, like myself, would love the opportunity to help stimulate the local economy by staying out later and patronizing local nightspots and concerts, without worrying about driving back. Plus, I imagine for many service industry workers, this would be a huge help.

  • michel chavanac

    The excuse that 24 hr service is impossible is nonsense. There is nothing being done at night that couldn’t be done by selective track usage. The cost of riding BART is falsely kept
    high for no useful reason. A single fare for any trip as in NYC would increase ridership and
    be much more fair. Obnoxious BART cops and surly operators don’t help.

    BART is a pile of crap as it is run now and the future looks worse.

  • EL

    Alex – I’m not surprised at all how much maintenance is performed during service hours and how little protection for the workers there are. That’s exactly how the worker died 2 years ago. It would appear that little has changed since.

    By the way, if you read the article in my link in my first post, you’ll see the infamous “false sense of security” excuse from BART. Now where have I heard that before?

  • Martha

    BART.. we spend all of this money extending it to the airport.. but if you have an early flight on Sunday.. sorry, you’ll have to figure something else out. Or if your flight is delayed (and you get in after midnight).. you’re screwed again. What a huge waste of money!

    If they’re going to have the trains run later on a regular basis, they MUST reopen the bathrooms. People wonder why the platforms (and cars) smell like pee… but most of the restaurants and bars near the BART stations will not let you use their bathrooms.. and BART has no bathrooms. What else are you supposed to do?

    Homeland security my ass. Just another excuse to cut back on the service they provide (and we keep paying more money for). Open the damn bathrooms!

    I’ve been stuck inside the station when trains were severely delayed, and considered peeing in a corner as well. What else are you supposed to do? Even NY has bathrooms in their subways! Caltrain is civil enough to have them available ON the train itself!

  • david vartanoff

    @Martha totally agree about SFO. Recently got Jet Blue to chamge a delayed flight to the next day because it would have landed after BART closed.
    About bathrooms. The dirty reality is that only the “underground” bathrooms have been closed, BART used the “security” BS to close the filthiest toilets. Glen Park, usually Balboa, and all of the above ground stations are open.

  • Even LA Was Able to Run a Late Night Subway!

    During the 2008 holiday season, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) ran Friday and Saturday night owl service on the Red Line subway connecting Hollywood to downtown, so instead of having to catch the last train shortly after midnight, riders had an extra two hours, until after 2 AM (last call at bars). This program was funded by local merchants. Metro wanted to continue it, but due to the Great Recession, funding vanished.

    If LA could do it, why can’t the Bay Area? Is LA that much more competent at transit management and maintenance than BART?

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