Thursday, April 3, 2014

Uncovering the Other Side of BART - A Continuation of BART and 511 Under the Microscope

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a heavy rail that spans from Fremont to Richmond, Millbrae to Pittsburg/Baypoint and Dublin/Pleasanton, totaling 104 miles in all. Many San Francisco, Berkeley, and downtown Oakland stations are underground stations. BART workers are proud of what they do to help serve riders like myself, trying to get from point A to point B. Although most of the BART workers are union members, BART still faces problems - though not related to the strike and fare increases. In this blog, I decided to continue where I left off from my previous blog and go deeper into the concerns of BART in terms of their management and not the union workers that operates trains and goes to work as a station agent.

My first possible answer may be something in part with why BART chose a fare structure that did not satisfy the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission's (MTC), which operates both the Clipper card and the 511's websites' separately. And even with the opening of the Berryessa extension, I am also concerned that six-car trains that the current Richmond to Fremont line runs won't be enough to shuttle riders when it comes to events held in the East Bay, at the new Levi's Stadium, and at the San Jose Flea Market, which draws huge traffic from those specific areas.

So let's start with the focus on the Berryessa extension that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is building, which is further south of the Warm Springs BART extension. When completed, I hear rumors that lines 180 and 181 might be eliminated, however, VTA did tell me that the they are doing an "Integration Study" to see what changes are to be made when the Berryessa extension is open. Concerns of pedestrian traffic, which I observed while the Berryessa BART station is currently under construction, has the owners of the San Jose Flea Market responding to my inquiry that they are preparing to complete the required construction to address the concerns of BART passengers entering the Flea Market.

The question also lingers in the air of who is going to operate overnight service when the Berryessa extension is complete, particularly on the issue of the connections between the Warm Springs BART station and downtown San Jose where it connects to VTA local line 22, as there is currently no service between Fremont and downtown San Jose as part of the All-Nighter Network. The Alameda - Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) told me that their overnight route (line 801) that serves the Fremont BART station will be passed on to the Planning Department, as AC Transit's overnight route will most likely be unable to serve the Berryessa station, as that station itself is in VTA's coverage area, as is the Milpitas station. VTA, however, has currently no plans to hold overnight service at Milpitas and Berryessa stations, which still questions of how people plan on getting to downtown San Jose from Fremont when BART is not in service during the overnight hours, depending on the day of the week. The current method of taking an overnight trip while BART is not in service is to take AC Transit's line 801 from Fremont, then connect to line 800 in downtown Oakland. Riders would then have to transfer again to samTrans route 397 at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco before another transfer at the Palo Alto Transit Center/Caltrain station for VTA's line 22 - a 24-hour service that runs between Palo Alto and the Eastridge Transit Center in San Jose.

Questions also arise about BART choosing to run six-car trains during some special events drawing large crowds, which are currently in service for most of the day and night along the "Richmond - Fremont" line. That part will have the name being changed to the "Richmond - Berryessa" line upon completion of the Berryessa extension. For any game day when both the Raiders and 49ers have home games that start at the same time, that could be a big problem that can cripple the driving commute to/from football games. One example of such was when the Oakland Athletics (A's) had a playoff game, causing the Oakland Raiders to move their kickoff start time to 8:30pm on Sunday. On the first game that the A's were in the playoffs, the Richmond - Fremont line were running six-car trains all night long, only reserving the longer trains after the playoff game. Things only improved the next day as the A's playoff game had BART switched from a six-car train that ran between 6AM to 7PM to longer trains than normal for most of the night in part due to the Cal football game. BART had to scramble Sunday's train service to run eight to nine-car trains almost all day and for much of the evening in anticipation of the late-kickoff start time for the Raiders. Rarely does BART end their service day with the last car of the night being an eight to ten-car train - for instance, San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade and Oakland A's home games also had BART scrambling to run the Richmond - Fremont line longer trains than typical, particularly on Sunday when that line ran nine to ten-car trains because of the A's game and the large crowds from the Gay Pride Parade that had Fremont - Daly City line operating on standby.

BART also faces a tough battle over the definition of what the youth age really means, as I first uncovered in my previous blog about BART's accurate fares and putting accurate youth, senior, and disabled fares in the booklet and on BART's website. My talk earlier with a 511 representative revealed that from their perspective, 511 only puts out cash fares for qualifying customers, and in doing so, I revealed that the accurate fares for seniors and the disabled will be much lower when paying with a Clipper card - up to a maximum difference of $7.60 (in 2014 dollars) when taking a combination of BART and Caltrain, as BART's fare structure made 511's trip planning impossible to put their actual accurate fare information on 511's website. My findings also revealed that BART has a culture of acceptance that is similar to VTA, but in BART's case, it largely involves the fare structure, which makes trip planning with accurate fare information very difficult and users having to rely on individual transit agency's website. VTA's problems only involve the credit card use and fare evasion on VTA's light rail when Tony Kovaleski investigated VTA. That is where I picked up where Kovaleski left off after I first uncovered that 511's fare on VTA and BART were inaccurate just after a simple trip planner on 511's website in late 2012, which I then decided to investigate for myself why 511 is not displaying accurate fare information for VTA and possibly other transit agencies within 511's coverage area.

VTA had recently started the process of building the Bay Area's first rapid transit system called "Bus Rapid Transit", known as BRT, held at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose. During that time, I met up with Dave Cortese, who I first met at the Bay Area Chrysanthemum Growers Association headquarters in the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose back in February 2014. I took the opportunity to ask a quick question to Cortese, one of the candidates for the mayor of San Jose, who says that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is also figuring out following my blog of what is going on at BART when I reviewed BART's three booklets that I picked up at the Fremont BART station, and none of them reveals the actual fares for qualified people, which are defined as the fares for the youth, senior, and disabled.

I also met Chris Lepe one hour after the ribbon cutting ceremony of the building of the BRT, who is a transit advocate and the community planner for TransForm California's Silicon Valley division. At that time, I was on my way to San Jose State University to cheer on the San Jose State Quidditch* team, who plans to compete in the upcoming tournament, as their teams is the only quidditch team of it's kind in the California State University system. Lepe has not yet read my blog when I met him at the Alum Rock bus stop, but he has provided his take on VTA when Kovaleski investigated both the credit card machines and the fare evasion on VTA.

BART may be thinking about denying the problems that I uncovered on fare problems that 511 was unable to display accurately for qualifying people, but I am already finding that serious problem. Because BART has a culture of acceptance of refusing to put accurate fare table information for the youth and senior/disabled in at least one of the three booklets as mentioned in my previous blog, BART has yet to address that specific issue. I wanted to write an e-mail to BART with pictures attached from my post on 511's wall, but I could not find a dedicated e-mail because BART won't let users send in any e-mails on BART's website that total more than 1000 words. BART's Fares and Schedules booklet only list fares for adults, which is only part of the reason why a 511 representative told me via a private message that while putting up a fare table specifically for qualifying people (also defined as a "concessionary fare") makes sense, 511's trip planner is only able to provide cash fares, noting that a discount fare would be "misleading or confusing", particularly for those with RTC Clipper cards and those holding BART's Red or Green tickets. Fare tables for qualifying people are essential for travelers with disabilities and seniors especially when those people do not have Internet access; those also include anyone that wants to use public transit in the Bay Area.

While there may be a "Coming Soon" as defined in Tony Kovaleski's reports on VTA in terms of the future Levi's Stadium and the double-tracking in Mountain View, there may not be a "coming soon" anytime soon for a fix on BART's "concessionary" fare problems in one of the booklets. For now, until the concessionary fare problems on BART is actually fixed on 511's website when trying to do any transit planning, the only remedy for an accurate fare calculation for the youth, senior, and disabled is to visit individual transit agencies' website within 511's coverage area if people want to use public transit in the Bay Area.

* "Quidditch" is referred to in the actual world as "Muggle Quidditch", which is a sport based on the Harry Potter novel series of which the books are written by J.K. Rowling.

Original Work by Kyle Chak
Twitter: @KyleSChak