New study says SF, Oakland to weather gas prices because of BART


New study says SF, Oakland to weather gas prices because of BART

BART Ridership Up By 3 Million Passengers

As crude oil prices cross the $70 a barrel threshold, a new study cites BART as a major reason why San Francisco and Oakland are ranked as two of the cities best-prepared to weather an oil crisis.

An April 2006 study of the 50 largest U.S. cities by SustainLane ranked San Francisco number three in the nation, behind only New York and Boston, in its ability to survive economically if oil prices skyrocket. Oakland ranked number 10. Of all the factors SustainLane considered, mobility was the most important, and BART, powered by electricity, could keep moving even if oil were in short supply.

Since the beginning of BART's current fiscal year, which started July 1, 2005 thru April 19, 2006 BART ridership was 4.1% higher than during the same time period in the previous fiscal year. That translates into about three million more passengers.

"I think people are turning to BART because not only is BART faster, it's much cheaper than driving," said BART Board President Carole Ward Allen. "People are just sick and tired of sitting parked on Bay Area freeways while their cars burn expensive gas."

Since the fall, BART has lengthened train sizes four times to accommodate the ridership growth, and has developed a number of parking programs to better help those who drive to BART find parking.

A 2005 American Automobile Association (AAA) study found it's nearly 50 cents per mile more cost effective to take BART. AAA puts the cost of driving at 69 cents per mile, which does not include bridge tolls and parking fees. The cost of taking BART is just 22 cents per mile.

BART is the hands down winner when it comes to getting good gas mileage too. Even the stingiest hybrid can't compare to the equivalent of 250 miles to the gallon that a person riding BART gets according to a 2003 Institute for Local Self Reliance study.

The same Washington, D.C. based research group estimated that Bay Area vehicle owners could save between $5,000 and $10,000 a year if they simply gave their cars a vacation and took BART to work instead.

While BART ridership is higher than agency planners had projected, it is difficult to point to gas prices as the single cause of the ridership increase. That's because BART ridership doesn't spike as soon as gas prices do.

"Ridership increases don't usually happen overnight," said Ward Allen. "Ridership gains are a result of at least two things; freeway congestion and the cost of driving, which includes parking, bridge tolls and gas prices."

Ward Allen said that freeway congestion is most important of the two factors. "When the freeways are packed, people begin to turn to BART regardless of whether gas prices are high. However, when you throw the growing cost of driving into the mix, that just fuels their desire to find alternative ways to get around rather than sitting in a traffic jam burning gallons of pricey gas. It can sometimes take a few months before commuters have had it with the congestion and the gas prices for them to change their driving habits and get on BART," Ward Allen said.