BART looks at ideas to handle growing demand


BART looks at ideas to handle growing demand

Many customers have asked questions about recent media coverage of the BART demand management study. This study is looking at ideas for accommodating increased passenger demand, including the possibility of different fares for peak and non-peak hours. We have developed a Frequently Asked Questions document about the study that we encourage you to review. 

Demand management is one of a number of strategies being evaluated by BART as we also explore ways to expand our ability to carry more passengers in coming decades. We must find ways to balance increasing passenger demand with available transit capacity and passenger comfort. Demand management concepts are used every day across several business sectors, such as the airline industry and electric utility companies, and on public facilities such as on toll roads. The BART Board of Directors heard an initial briefing on the demand management study on Thursday, September 11, 2008. The study is expected to take one year to complete. 

At this point, we simply don’t know if there are demand management strategies that would work for BART, or if it would be appropriate to implement any that would. We understand that the public are the owners of the BART system and that our customers rely on it to get them safely and quickly to their destinations, at a fair and equitable price. We will take our public responsibility into account as demand management strategies are considered. No policy recommendations have been made on which ideas from the study, if any, will be pursued. Public input will be sought as part of the process of completing the study and any change to fares or fare policy would require Board approval and public hearings. The study has three key goals:

  • To identify and analyze strategies to manage transit demand and evaluate whether they're applicable for BART
  • To evaluate public acceptance of those strategies
  • To quantify impact of the strategies, and consider their potential to generate revenue to relieve unfunded capacity constraint

The study reflects initiatives at the regional, state and federal level to encourage use of market pricing to manage urban transportation systems. One important reason is due to insufficient state and federal transportation funding to meet public demand. Transit systems in other areas, including Washington, D.C. and New Jersey, have already done so. Listed below are initial responses to some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the study:

1. Is BART about to raise fares?

No – there are no new plans to change our current fares or fare policy. The Demand Management Study simply looks at a number of ideas, including peak fare pricing, to better manage our passenger loads in the coming decades. The goal is to increase ridership while at the same time make your experience on BART more comfortable and our stations and trains more accessible than they otherwise would if peak demand continues. The study will examine the concept of what a future surcharge would have on passengers traveling during peak hours to congested locations, and lower fares in uncongested locations. The results of the study will provide the Board of Directors and the public with a menu of options on how to maintain or enhance the riding experience during rush hours. Both the elected Board and the public will have the opportunity to comment on these options before the Board makes any decision on whether to alter current fare policy.

2. Why is BART evaluating demand management strategies such as peak fares and parking management?

As the costs of driving have increased, so has the attractiveness of BART. In coming decades, the region is looking at a future in which BART passengers will experience more and more crowding on trains, and at some stations – particularly Montgomery and Embarcadero. Ultimately, the long-term solution to these crowding problems will be more BART service, including expanding the fleet, offering more frequent service, a second Transbay Tube and new stations. The costs of these capacity improvements, however, will run into the billions of dollars and no funding is currently programmed for them. Even if funding were available, design and constructions could take decades. We are looking at demand management as a potential measure to address future crowding in the peak hour, and secondarily considering it as a measure to contribute towards funding long-term capacity mprovements.

3. What are the capacity issues on the BART system?

Our ridership has a very large, narrow peak that lasts for about a 30- to 90-minute window in both the mornings and evenings. Many of the constraints are in the busy Transbay corridor, and at Montgomery and Embarcadero Stations. The primary capacity constraints identified on the BART system are (a) heavy crowding on the trains, (b) circulation on the station platforms, and (c) access to the stations.

4. Is BART out of capacity now?

While trains and stations are becoming more crowded, we are not out of capacity. However, there are factors on the horizon that may encourage more people to choose transit, such as gas prices, freeway congestion, auto tolling, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and regional growth. These factors could lead to continued strong growth in Transbay travel and impact the quality of the BART travel experience. It is important to start planning now on how to manage and accommodate this expected growth in transit ridership in coming decades. The study is looking out to 2020 and beyond. We have ample capacity outside of the 30- to 90-minute window in the mornings and evenings for travel to and from downtown San Francisco, and to and from many other places that BART serves.

5. What is BART doing to provide more transit service and accommodate more riders?

Examining demand management strategies is only one piece of the larger effort to accommodate more passengers on the trains and expedite boardings in the future. On September 8, 2008, there were more than 405,400 BART riders, a new daily record. Our current fleet of 669 rail cars is capable of carrying about 500,000 riders each weekday; however, we are looking for ways to carry them as comfortably as possible. The Demand Management Study will explore options that we can use in coming decades while we search for funding for long-term projects such as a second Transbay Tube and a new, larger, more modern rail fleet. Both are multi-billion investments for which funding is not available in the near term. BART has undertaken a number of activities in recent years to improve the ability of the system to carry more riders. We are in the process of modifying the interior arrangement of
cars. The modifications will increase the number of persons who can board by more than 10 percent. We are also preparing specifications and seeking funding to replace and expand our rail car fleet (see below), which is a multi-year effort. BART is also analyzing the capacity needs at many key stations and systems to identify potential solutions and costs. In addition, in 2008 we increased train service by 33% after 7:00 pm Monday – Saturday and all the time on Sunday to encourage more off-peak travel.

6. Why can’t BART just add more cars to the trains?

Due to the platform length of all 43 BART stations, we are limited to running 10 car trains. Some peak period trains currently are shorter than 10 cars, but this is primarily due to the limited size of our current fleet. We have a fleet of 669 cars, and nearly 90 percent are being used during the peak period. The rest of the vehicles are in the shop for scheduled maintenance, which is needed to ensure continued reliable service. As is the case for many transit agencies, BART’s cars are custom designed to be strong, but very light and efficient. Thus, we cannot purchase them “off-the-shelf.” Providing additional cars is a multi-year process, which we have already initiated.

7. What is the status of ordering new BART cars?

Most of our rail cars are several decades old, and have already been through a major renovation. We are developing new rail car specifications to begin purchasing a new fleet. The cost in today’s dollars is roughly $2.5 billion. While this purchase is not fully funded, we are in the process of developing a full funding plan with our funding partners.

8. Why can’t BART just pay to increase the number of trains and improve the stations?

Substantial sums are invested in improving stations each year, but BART fares and sales tax revenues are primarily needed to cover operating costs. Relatively little is left over to invest in improvements, meaning capital investments must come from other sources. Lately, state and federal funds have been difficult to obtain. As mentioned above, even when funds are available, buying new BART cars is a long process and the cars must be custom made.

9. Could a peak surcharge raise enough funding to buy more cars?

This is one of many questions that the study will help to answer.

10. Why is BART considering raising fares, when we need to increase transit ridership to address air quality and climate change?

BART is a critical component of the Bay Area’s solutions to climate change, air pollution and congestion, and we expect its role will grow in the future. In addition to spreading peak demand, a key goal of the study is to increase overall BART ridership, particularly at offpeak times and in reverse-peak directions. BART wants to expand its ability to meet the needs of its peak period passengers, but currently lacks adequate funding to do so. Unlike the
region’s highways, no regional, state or federal funding is currently programmed for transit capacity expansion in the Bay Area.

11. How would this impact low-income travelers?

Demand management strategies may have different effects on travelers based on income level, time of travel, and destination. This study will examine these effects and identify additional options to reduce the overall economic impacts on low-income travelers.