Recently re-elected BART board member John McPartland, fresh off a year that saw the transit agency negotiate a new four-year contract with its unions and gain voter approval of a $3.5 billion bond for capital improvements, told a real estate group last Friday that better days are coming for Tri-Valley commuters.
An additional 700 train cars will soon replace the aging existing fleet, with BART seeking funds for 300 more cars. With 10-car trains the norm and a new control system that will narrow the gap between trains to 11 minutes, BART will increase commuter service by 40%. It could also help reduce traffic across the Bay Bridge by 8,500 fewer vehicles a day.
"Right now, we just can't get any more vehicles on the bridge during peak commute hours, and we're reaching the limit on some BART platforms of people being able to get on the trains," McPartland told a Valley Real Estate Network (VREN) audience at a meeting at Inkling's coffee house in downtown Pleasanton.
McPartland, who represents cities and BART stations in District 5, including Pleasanton, Castro Valley and Dublin, was re-elected to another four-year term on the BART Board of Directors last November. Retired from the Oakland Fire Department after 25 years as a chief officer, he recently was appointed to the State Seismic Safety Commission.
He also recently retired as a colonel after 36 years of military service, including seven on active duty as a colonel, where he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star.
About his seismic duties, McPartland assured his audience that BART is safe in the event of an earthquake.
"In the event of a big one," he said, "there are two places I'd like to be: in the Transbay Tube because it was designed to be super-safe, or riding on the Dublin grade because I could walk home."
With the $3.5 billion bond issue, BART will start replacing its 40-year-old tracks and upgrading its control system. The new cars that will soon be phased in will have fewer seats but more standing capacity. During peak commute times, the chance of getting a seat "will be slim to none," he said. The new cars will have three doors instead of the current two to make access faster.
Although BART to Livermore is a much talked about goal, it's going to take another nine years -- at least to 2026 -- before construction will be completed to Isabel Road at I-580 in Livermore. BART hopes to eventually extend tracks to Greenville Road, "but we have no plans to take BART trains to downtown Livermore," he said. Buses or a trolley-like system might link the Isabel station to downtown Livermore and to the ACE train station.
McPartland acknowledged that ridership is down, but mainly during off-peak travel. With 440,000 passengers per week, peak-hour commuters are still increasing. He attributes the dip in passengers between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to filled parking lots when drivers just continue onto the freeways in their cars.
McPartland said he is working to convince other directors to expand parking here for another 500 vehicles.
On finances, McPartland said BART relies on passenger fares for 75% of its needs, far more than other U.S. transit systems. Because of subsidies, the MUNI system in San Francisco collects only 25% in fare box revenue to pay operating costs. Transit rail systems in New York City, Chicago and the District of Columbia operate with just 50% of needed revenue from passenger fares.
So, while BART appears set for now in financing needed upgrades and expansion, McPartland said the agency will likely be back again for funds to replace the improvements now being made in another 40 years.
* Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.