Decision time: Sustainable and Equitable Transportation or a Bankrupt BART?

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

On May 24th the BART board will likely vote on whether to build a five-mile, $1.6 billion rail extension on the Dublin to Livermore corridor down the center of I-580, or a much more cost-effective bus alternative.

They are running out of time to chose. AB 758, which created the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority, requires that BART take action on an alternative before the end of June, or they will lose control of the project’s future.

BART should vote to approve an express bus/bus rapid transit (BRT) alternative. This is the only option that the region can afford, will provide a reliable connection to the Dublin station, and allows the agency to maintain the existing system. With BRT they can still support critical infrastructure work such as the Transbay Core Capacity Project (which includes 306 new BART cars and a new train control system). Or BART could use the $1.2 billion difference between a full BART extension to Livermore and a BRT for future infrastructure projects such as a second Transbay tube.

This choice mirrors the one BART faced a few years back when it opted to build the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), despite its high cost and lack of benefits to Oakland residents. That time, instead of investing in a low-cost affordable BRT alternative, the board approved a project that drains funds from the core system. The OAC now suffers from breakdowns, low ridership, and ongoing debt service.

Clearly, a full BART extension to Livermore will require federal funds. That means a federal equity analysis. Currently, BART staff have only done a preliminary analysis that looks mostly at the population around the proposed Livermore Isabel Station and has not yielded much information. BART’s failure to conduct a full equity analysis on the OAC triggered a civil rights complaint (filed by a coalition including Urban Habitat, Public Advocates, TransFrom and Genesis) that resulted in $70 million in federal funds being pulled from the project. In other words, if the full-BART extension is approved, a robust equity analysis will be done after the project has been approved.

Furthermore, the extension is projected to generate 11,900 new daily boardings by 2040. That would be great, but given the current overcrowding of the core system, it means more people will get passed by at stations closer in to downtown Oakland and San Francisco. Meanwhile, the cost per boarding (which includes funds needed to build, operate, maintain, rehabilitate, and replace assets) is $20.6 and the farebox recovery is 88 percent, compared to 193 percent farebox recovery for the bus options. That’s why the full-BART extension option fared poorly in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s 2013 project performance assessment and is unlikely be prioritized for regional discretionary funds.

The express bus/BRT option, for comparison, would cost only $380 million with a higher cost-effectiveness ($14.1 cost per boarding). It would generate 3,500 new daily boardings, which BART can handle without leaving more people unable to board trains in the core of the system. And, since the current Alameda County transportation sales tax measure includes $400 million that can be used to pay the full cost of the BRT alternative, it can actually get built.

The choice is clear for BART and the region–learn the lessons from the OAC. Build the BRT, address the needs of current riders, and grow ridership by investing in improved reliability and affordability so that all Bay residents have better access to equitable and sustainable transportation now and in the future.

Bob Allen is Urban Habitat’s policy and advocacy campaign director. He’s also an occasional Streetsblog contributor.

  • david vartanoff

    Certainly the least possible investment in a low potential ridership area is the best choice. If mass transit is worth building the Livermore styation should be in the centeral business district. Livermore doesn’t want realmass transit, just another park and ride in the middle of a freeway. IMHO, NOTHING should be done to extend BART service in that region. If Livermore transit users want better access to BART, they have their own bus agency to provide same.

  • jonobate

    The selected alternative should be No Project. The Express Bus/BRT option would cause political consternation as it would preclude any future rail extension and would not be seen as a real BART extension by Livermore or the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority. The Enhanced Bus option is fine, but it’s a token expenditure, and improving bus service in the area should really be the responsibility of LAVTA.

    With No Project, the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority will get to move forward planning their proposed DMU extension to West Tracy. Without being forced to adopt the same service assumptions as BART (i.e. 15-minute headways) they can single-track the line, which means they only have to widen one half of the freeway. That along with removing the need for an expensive BART yard greatly reduces the cost, getting to West Tracy for less than the cost of BART to Isabel. It’s still a dumb alignment because it doesn’t serve Downtown Livermore, but it is at least is reasonably cost effective and connects to ACE at Greenville.

    It’s really dumb that we have to have a different agency plan this because BART won’t change their planning assumptions, but we are where we are.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    No Build is the only credible alternative. On a list of BART projects ranked by cost/benefit an extension to the middle of a field stands behind 20 other, better projects.

  • quisqas2378

    The picture shown above was taken at West Dublin Pleasanton Station which is NOT the current terminus of that particular BART line.

  • Roger R.

    Wow. Great eye! I took out the caption. Thanks. RR

  • Might as well bend it all the way around to e-BART.

  • jonobate

    Yeah, there have been proposals to extend both eBART and Altamont DMU to a transfer station at downtown Tracy. Not likely to happen, though – there’s not enough riders between Tracy and East Contra Costa to be worth a rail link, and riders from Tracy to SF/Oakland would be better off using the blue line via Altamont rather than the yellow line via East Contra Costa. In the unlikely event that eBART does go beyond Brentwood, it’ll head east to Stockton, where it might be useful for Stockton – SF commuters.

  • But doesn’t it have to go through Tracy to get to Stockton?

  • Kevin Withers

    Opponents are just another flavor of, “I’ve got mine, go F yourself”

    Livermore BART has long been promised, and funds have been identified and have been paid for many years. If there were ever a need to get cars off the roads, this is a classic one.

  • jonobate

    No. In the unlikely event that eBART goes to Stockton, it would be in the center of a freewayized Hwy 4, just like the existing eBART line. (It’s unlikely because it would be a BART project, and BART has little appetite to expand to yet another county.)

    Altamont DMU to Stockton, which is more likely to happen, would indeed have to go through Tracy.

  • Thanks for the clarification.

  • DrunkEngineer

    For new intercity rail construction, every other nation on earth builds high-speed rail. But on one of the busiest corridors in California, world’s 5th largest economy, the choices are bus, 1960’s BART, or 79mph diesel train. Good grief.

  • xplosneer

    No it’s not.

    What about all the other places that were “promised” BART? West SF? Antioch? West Contra Costa? Alameda?

  • xplosneer

    $500M to Wheels/LAVTA would do so much if they committed to mass transit, like offboard fares, priority lights, bus lanes…

    But Livermorons (of which I am included) likely won’t sacrifice any car mobility for that, so that makes a lot of it a waste – the buses won’t be fast enough, so the ridership potential is still low.

  • Kevin Withers

    And sales taxes

  • Kevin Withers

    $500M identified on a $1.6B project? That’s far better percentage than the oh-so-smart high speed rail project that transit people fawn over.

  • Kieran

    I stated it before and I’ll post it again-The only way a Livermore extension would’ve worked for BART is if they went with the original alignment through downtown Livermore and terminating at the Livermore nuclear lab at Vasco rd along with building a new train yard over there. Both stations in downtown and at the new terminus would’ve connected with ACE and numerous bus lines…

  • Jeffrey Baker

    There are way more people who have paid way more taxes over the years living near infill opportunities like 30th St. San Francisco and 14th Ave. Oakland. These are cheaper projects that serve more people and are compatible with BART’s long-term goals.

    It’s easy to make up a dumb story about all the money Livermore residents have paid into BART, but the facts don’t line up. When BART began Livermore’s population was 1/5th what it is today, while the populations of Oakland and San Francisco have grown little. The cumulative tax contributions of those cities to BART is much, much higher than that of Livermore, and they have the necessary population density to support the service from Day 1.

  • xplosneer

    Goalposts ————>>>>>>

  • xplosneer

    I don’t even disagree with you here in general. Still not a reason to go with a wasteful extension that will get even less farebox recovery.

  • Kieran

    30th st station seriously should’ve been built by now..It’d be by far the best infill station with the highest ridership..It’s at the ideal intersection for it, whatwith the plethora of Muni lines like the J, 36, 14 local and rapid, 24 and 49, not to mention Safeway and Biglots being within walking distance of it as well.

    The only Livermore extension option that makes any actual sense(partly because it’d have connected to ACE and numerous bus lines at both the downtown and new terminus stations) is the route taking it through downtown Livermore with subway station, followed by an elevated station and new terminal at Vasco rd near Livermore nuclear lab..Plus a new train yard would’ve been built near there as well…Look at my other post in here for the conceptual route map of it.

    The 580 BART extension with the Isabel station’s obviously going to be a huge waste of time and $, not to mention it’d have a measly amount of passengers using it at best.

  • Mike

    Let your representative on the BART Board know what you would like to see:

  • Kevin Withers

    “not to mention it’d have a measly amount of passengers using it at best.”

    Really? Read the article sometime, the transit advocate author is very concerned that 11,000 or so riders from Livermore will fill up the trains, that’s one of his main points.

  • Kevin Withers

    Let’s make note, you oppose Bart and prefer BRT and you happen to be employed by a company building… buses.


  • Kieran

    I did read the article. However as I already stated prior, if BART simply went with the downtown/Livermore nuclear lab alignment it’d connect to ACE at both stations, along with a good amount of bus lines. So to me, with those added transportation connections at both stations, it’d boost the ridership and in turn result in a smarter extension.

    As far as ridership overcrowding BART from that Isabel extension you’re referring to, don’t forget that BART is getting more of the new Bombardier-made BART trains in the coming months. Some of them could be dispatched to handle any potential colossal surge of passengers.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The rider projection is pure fantasy. The proposed extension is only slightly further east than Dublin/Pleasanton BART. Most of the riders at the new station will be people who would otherwise have just gone 5 more miles down the road.

  • Joe Brant

    Unless Livermore will make the zoning changes necessary for the BART extension to succeed, this project shouldn’t happen. I’m sure there are rural farmhouses in the far edges of Contra Costa County that have been paying BART taxes too. Doesn’t mean we have to deliver gold-plated train service to each one of them.

  • thielges

    Furthermore a major incentive to get off of 580 and onto BART is the big traffic backup on eastbound 580 before 680. Moving the terminal stop a few miles east won’t change the driver motivation. However moving the terminal stop to be a direct transfer to ACE would be a game changer. ACE would go from a little unidirectional commute service to a viable alternative to the jammed I-5, I-205, and I-580 freeways.

  • Jame

    100% agreed. Then it would have been a good plan.

  • Kieran

    Precisely. It’s too bad that the less effective route’s been chosen that simply goes to Isabel station…Ya know, it’s really a shame how many times BART’s messed up in terms of missing out on constructing extensions that actually make sense.

  • LazyReader

    Passenger rail travel in California was rendered obsolete 70 years ago. It’s funny BART wants to build extensions to Silicon Valley while Silicon Valley tinkers with the technologies that’ll make passenger rail even more functionally redundant. Anyway the Livermore extension is just as government waste as any. It’s the ultimate example to nepotism. Livermore is home to Sandia National labs, which houses 10,000 daily workers and 700 staff and hundreds of students. So spend billions so a train can move directly to them. Which is a waste since Silicon Valley and the Federal government already shuttles people to and from every day.

  • Yoel

    It’s 11,000 MORE riders on trains that are ALREADY FULL TODAY by the time they get to Oakland, meaning those passengers would be left behind.

  • xplosneer

    And I’m on record for changing the BRT alignment in a way that would entirely preclude my company’s buses from being used, so…….

  • the highway median extension will not generate 11,000 more riders. every single time a transit line gets extended we hear these inflated ridership projections. just like the SFO extension and the delayed Central Subway.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Right, it doesn’t even pass the smell test. The nearest station only has 8000 daily riders and this new station would mainly be stealing riders from that one. If the new station had 11000 it would be larger than MacArthur or Berkeley, which is preposterous.

  • crazyvag

    1960’s BART has many elements that are better than 1900’s NYC Subway or London Tube. We’re only talking about a few miles here, so BART isn’t a horrible choice – if it were to connect to ACE like others mentioned above.

  • crazyvag

    30th St station is a bad example because it’s technically infeasible. At that spot, the BART tracks run at an incline that is too steep for ADA compliance. You’d need to build a new tunnel that has a flatter profile that reconnects to existing line. It’s a whole lot of digging.

  • crazyvag

    Given that state funds are used for both BART extensions and ACE extensions, next governor should stipulate that these funds will be released only if there’s a joint ACE/BART station: either in Downtown Livermore or Lawrence Livermore Labs.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    That’s interesting. Where can I find a 3-dimensional map of BART? Does the 14th Ave. Oakland area between Lake Merritt and Fruitvale have the same problems?

  • crazyvag

    From the horse’s mouth so to speak:

  • Kieran

    Very interesting read…Damn….Seems like the only way a 30th st station would feasibly exist is if BART actually constructed it during the 60s when they were building the initial system….All the needed track construction/grade elevation construction and altering/etc would cost billions if anything..

    That’s a shame, though..

  • CeeTee55

    Factually inaccurate.

  • Kevin Withers

    You’re welcome.

    Bus employees trying to skew things towards buses… regardless of whose company makes them, benefits the bus industry.


  • xplosneer

    Ah yes, I’m shilling to get New Flyer a foot in the door on an operator that only buys our buses right now, really great plan.



BART's Hayward shop. Photo: Streetsblog.

BART Makes Some Progress on Noise

BART has been busy reshaping its wheels as part of a strategy to reduce the system’s notorious howl. Initial results show it’s working. “The new, reduced-contact wheel profile has shown as much as a 15 dB decrease in interior noise on the current fleet” wrote the transit operator in a release put out today. “By […]