Rider recalls first day of BART passenger service on Sept. 11, 1972


Rider recalls first day of BART passenger service on Sept. 11, 1972

Rick Prelinger has been a moving image archivist for about 25 years and collects historic films and footage, focusing on life, culture and industry, 1900-1980. He also was one of the riders on the very first day of BART service -- September 11, 1972. You can hear an oral history as he recalls the experience. (The recording was made during "Art on BART: An Artist Guided Tour of the Bay Area Urban Ecosystem," a daylong artwork organized by Amber Hasselbring in 2005.)  Or, read more about it in his own words here: 

"I was a 19-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore from the East, hip to transit but relatively new to California, and thrilled that carless people like me would have speedy access to so much more of the Bay Area. People here had waited for BART for at least 10 years since they'd voted to authorize it, and it was a real party that day. (Remember, this was before the energy crisis of 1973-74, and in those days schools opened later in September, so the system was full of parents and kids joyriding.)  It was a thrill to see families riding and inspecting the system that they'd poured their sales taxes into and marveling at the technology, which for that time was pretty advanced."

"I was a public transit fan and regularly rode AC Transit to get to school and explore the East Bay.  But BART expanded my free range of movement.  I remember standing in the first car looking through the window at the operator, and amazed how the trains sped up to 80 mph on the elevated right-of-way south of Lake Merritt.  It was also striking how little development there was in southern Alameda County at that time -- you could see many more old farmhouses and old windmill bases in San Lorenzo and Hayward; Union City was little more than the Decoto section, with its lovingly decorated little houses with fenced-in yards; and the area near Fremont station was largely unbuilt."

We asked Prelinger if he thought there were lessons from the opening days of BART that would be valuable for us today. He responded:

"We are very fortunate to have such a great a rail transit system in the Bay Area.  The public sector has shrunk since the 1970s, and it's much more difficult to raise the money for ambitious public works even when they make economic sense.  Though it would be hard to build BART today if we had to, we can still make it better: we can keep its infrastructure in the best of shape, and extend the system so that it better serves our expanding population."

Prelinger has a big collection of archival materials online and with his spouse runs a publicly-accessible collection of print materials in downtown San Francisco. It is three blocks from Civic Center, so easily accessible by BART!

Prelinger also does an annual film show called "Lost Landscapes of San Francisco" and this year will do the first "Lost Landscapes of the East Bay." The shows include scenes of vanished San Francisco streets, landscapes and activities, and are mostly drawn from old home movies, newsreels and industrial films. 

For more on how BART came to be and the early days of its operations, go to the history section of the BART website.