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Old July 6 2013, 11:28 PM   #47
Saito S
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Re: Should Public Transportation Agencies be Allowed to Strike?

iguana_tonante wrote: View Post
Saito, Thanks for the long, insightful post. You obviously know more than me about this particular situation, so thank you for giving the full picture of it. I agree the situation was badly managed on both fronts. What it prompted my reply was the implication that the right to strike is something bad and ugly, and the general tone of condemnation for workers and employees.
Thanks, glad I could be of some help in understanding things!

It is a strange situation with a lot of muddy, hard to parse elements, which is why I would say that putting the blame entirely on the unions isn't fair, either. But I do think they were simply asking for too much, both in terms of being reasonable (i.e. looking at their wages and benefits as compared to most Bay Area workers), and being realistic (i.e. the question of, regardless of who wants what, where is BART supposed to get this money to accommodate these union demands? There is only so much capital to go around). And this is all magnified by the fact that their salaries are essentially paid by the public, and frankly, there are a large number of BART workers who aren't that great at their jobs.
As for the first part of your post, obviously, I couldn't agree more.
Yeah, I really felt the need to say something to that. Conflating owning a business with hard work, implicitly... actually, it was pretty damn explicit, really... implying that if building and running your own business is the only truly respectable option here, is just outrageous.

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Saito, I'm curious as to what you think is idiotic about the BART expansion to Oakland airport...
Okay, where did I put my transit geek hat... ah, here it is.

I actually should have used the word "connector", instead of "expansion", because the former is what it is; the latter implies that BART itself will extend to the airport, which is not the case. And it's officially called "Oakland Airport Connector" anyway (from here on, I'll call it OAC).

Their idea is to build an automated people mover in the form of a short, elevated railway connecting the Oakland Coliseum BART station to Oakland Airport. Now, I actually just looked up some information on the project which I haven't done in a while, and there is an aspect of it that I had wrong: apparently it will be cable-drawn, like San Francisco's cable cars (only fully automated). I had heard that they would be using diesel multiple units for the thing, which struck me as a terrible idea, but that's not correct. I had gotten the DMU idea from another proposed BART project, "eBART", and mixed it up with this one. So that mitigates it somewhat.

But only somewhat. It's still a $484 million project that has been controversial since day one. A chunk of their funding was pulled in 2010 when federal transportation officials concluded that BART hadn't done enough to solicit comments from the public and consider the long-term impacts of the project. It was mired in controversy, but BART found a way to just push ahead by using different funding sources instead.

They are projecting that it will cost $6 to ride it, which is steep. That's double the current cost of getting from the station to the airport via the AirBART shuttle (more on that in a minute). It's estimated that it will take 8 minutes to complete the trip via OAC. This is almost exactly the same as the time it takes to make the drive on surface streets. Of course, the problem with surface streets is traffic; the real travel time for AirBART usually ends up being 10-15 minutes. But you could easily get around that problem by simply using dedicated lanes and signal prioritization to allow a bus to zip through without having to worry about traffic congestion.

Which brings me to the alternative proposal: Bus Rapid Transit.

Currently, there are two transit options to get from the BART station to the airport: a local bus line operated by AC Transit, and a specialized bus called AirBART. They use basically the same route, but the AC line is slower (due to making stops in between; AirBART is express between the station and the airport) and doesn't have dedicated space for luggage, which AirBART does. However, AirBART also costs $3, whereas AC Transit costs $2.10. And the dumbest thing about AirBART is that the fare can only be paid on the bus, and only via cash, a specialized ticket, or a BART ticket containing exactly $3; for some reason, the buses don't accept Clipper, the regional transit smart card that nearly every Bay Area transit service now accepts (including BART and AC Transit).

The smart thing to do would be to create dedicated lanes for the AirBART route, and turn the entire operation over to AC Transit. Keep the express nature of it (few or no intermediate stops), and with its own lane, it would easily make the trip in 8-9 minutes and could maintain headways as good as those that OAC will have (every 4-5 minutes). Since the same buses would be used, they would have the dedicated luggage space of AirBART, but would be part of AC Transit's system, thus would only be $2.10 per ride, would be compatible with ACT transfers, and would take Clipper. Creating a rapid bus corridor would cost somewhere in the range of 50-100 million, at most (that figure would include procuring vehicles, which would not be necessary in this case).

Instead, they're spending $484 million to build a controversial overhead rail line that would be no faster and is projected to cost $6 per ride. 6 dollars to go about 3 miles. To put that in perspective: for 6 dollars, you can get from Millbrae to Walnut Creek - a thirty-five mile trip - on BART.

Of course, the rapid bus idea was, in all honesty, impossible from the get-go. Despite the efforts of some to try and make it a reality, it never had a chance. Because in the Bay Area, like most of the US, buses are considered inferior to trains (not that trains are then given much in the way of funding or resources to run efficiently, but buses are looked at as being clunky and smelly and for poor people), and the idea of creating more inconvenience to private automobiles by dedicating a lane for transit is met with shock and outrage.

So you end up with BART - despite having a myriad of operational problems of its own - getting approval for huge money wasters such as this, sucking up massive federal funding and often making it harder for other agencies to get as much funding, because they're BART. They're bigger and louder and - being a fast-moving railway rather than a bus system - sexier than other agencies in the eyes of the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Never mind that BART's own cars and stations are falling apart. Instead of spending hundreds of millions on OAC, or on extending even further into far-flung, sparsely populated suburbia, how about taking those millions and overhauling the escalators in the downtown San Francisco stations so they don't go down every other day? Among many other issues, of course.
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