Transportation Deployment Casebook/Bay Area Rapid Transit System

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By David Giacomin

Introduction[edit | edit source]

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A Map of the Current Bay Area Rapid Transit System
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The BART Logo

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) System is a public transportation system that serves the Bay Area in northern California. It is comprised of 5 train lines complete with 44 stations over 104 miles of track.[1] It's average weekday ridership is 379,300.[2] It has been a part of the transportation system in the Bay Area since 1972,[1] and has slight additions planned for the near future.
It has not always been a total of 5 lines over 104 miles; the system has been implemented over many decades and is the result of extensive planning and work over many decades. Obviously its main market are inhabitants of the Bay Area, primarily San Francisco and Oakland as residents of these areas have direct links to many other destinations, not needing to make transfers as often as a resident of Fremont, for example. This is perhaps a general reflection of the higher populations (and population densities) of Oakland and San Francisco. Other beneficiaries are of course anyone who would like to use the system, such as people from out-of-town arriving to San Francisco International Airport. Plans are in place to expand the BART system to provide service to Oakland International Airport, currently served by an "airBART" bus. These plans are currently under construction by a private firm Doppelmayr, and are scheduled for completion in 2014.[3]

History[edit | edit source]

An older car used in the BART System, now decommissioned.

The Bay Area in northern California is host to a number of cities including San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland. In total the area had over 7 million inhabitants.[4] As a large area with many inhabitants, a comprehensive transportation network is demanded. Of course the area grew to its current population level, and has not always been a populous area. In 1946, the idea for BART was first devised.[1] It came from the many people living on both sides of the bay (in and around San Francisco and Oakland) demanding a quicker means of traveling across the bay. The current primary option was crossing the bay by automobile, while other options included traveling south around the bend (near San Jose) or traveling across the bay by water. By connecting the two areas, travel times could be greatly decreased. While the demand initially came from the public and business owners, the project ultimately required government implementation. With the area facing a post-war population boom, in addition to a boom in the demand of automobiles, it became clear that the Bay Bridge would not be able to handle inclement demand.
The project required cooperation from a number of municipalities, and required revenue from a number of locations. Unfortunately, throughout the construction process many litigation suits formed, causing increased and unforeseen costs both financial and in time delays. This obviously hurt development of the technology, and decreased the public benefit.
Initially, the BART System was composed of only 75 miles of rail, with 33 stations.[5] The payment system has always been an automatic one, only recently in 2002 switching over to a "Clipper Card", discussed further in the Payment Section. This original 75-mile composure was approximately over 25 miles of aerial structures, 25 miles of subway, and only 25 miles of surface track.[5] The varying types undoubtedly increased cost.

Technology[edit | edit source]

A BART Train Car at the Daly City Station.
A view of the wide gauge used in the Bay Area Rapid Transit System
A BART Train stopped at a station.

The tracks are split 5'6" in the BART System.[5] This is unconventional, and creates difficulty if another train system wanted to connect to the BART System. In other words, it would be nearly impossible. The purpose behind this wide gauge was to reduce train sway when traveling at high speeds. A 1,000 Volt Direct Current line that runs about the entire system is what powers the trains as they move, provided by a trackside "third rail".[5] Each car has seating for 72 passengers.[5] The train can peak around 80 miles per hour with an average operating speed around 50 miles per hour.[5] The cars will be complete with carpeted floors, automatic air conditioning, reading lights, and wide windows.[5] These features are rather lavish for a commuter's public transportation system. The carpeted floors also raise concerns for high maintenance costs, especially in cleaning. This is not as difficult and time-consuming with a hard floor, where one can simply mop to clean the floors.
According to reports, the carrying capacity of the BART System is "30,000 seated passengers per hour on a single line in one direction".[5]
Vibration control has been a focus of recent research, as there are currently proposals to expand the BART System to San Jose, a city on the south of the Bay. While the vibration controls initially implemented are largely performing as expected, there have been some unanticipated results causing damage to the system, which would like to be solved before another link is implemented.[6]

Bus Connections[edit | edit source]

The BART System is well connected throughout its 44 stations to provide bus service to many other areas not served by the trains. Unfortunately, connecting do a bus does not always mean that one can use their "Clipper Card" for payment. WestCAT and Dumbarton Express are examples of bus connection services that to not make use of the same payment system. This system makes it difficult for users thus discouraging them, and is in stark contrast with a metro system like that of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

Earthquake Preparation[edit | edit source]

A study completed in 2002 concluded that the BART system is largely unprepared for a serious earthquake in the Bay Area. The link of primary concern is the Transbay Tube, a link between San Francisco and Oakland. Not only is this link a high-usage link of the system but damage to the link could be severe should an earthquake occur, making it a primary concern. Other main concerns include aerial structures and train stations.[7]
Unlike previous developments of the BART System, Doppelmayr will provide the deep foundations, columns, and bent caps necessary to withstand an earthquake in their development of the Oakland International Airport Connector, scheduled for completion in 2014. Their production will also provide an increase in capacity to the Oakland International Airport, further enhancing the BART System.[8]
Many concepts have been discussed regarding improvement of the technology behind the BART System in preparation for an earthquake, though little has resulted.

Payment[edit | edit source]

A Clipper Card being swiped at a pay terminal.

The primary and encouraged method of payment for the BART system is to use a reloadable card, that can simply be passed over a payment terminal to pay for a charge. The technology, called a "Clipper Card", was first implemented in 2002 and has since been rebranded to its current name, the Clipper Card. It is functional across eight transit agencies[9]: AC Transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Caltrain, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, SamTrans, San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and the San Francisco Bay Ferry (for use on the South San Francisco - Oakland/Alameda route only).

Riders' Noise Exposure[edit | edit source]

A recent study by Dinno et al. noticed that there is a significant amount of noise exposure for riders on the BART System. By observing and analyzing three dosimetry measures, they concluded that 1% of the line segment rides on the BART System posed acute hazardous exposures to adults and 2% of the line segment rides were hazardous to children. They identified specific rail segments that could be improved, and noted that the noise problems were a function of high velocity, flooring of the train cars, as well as enclosed tunnels the trains pass through.[10]

Role of Policy[edit | edit source]

Policy played a crucial role in the development (or in some cases lack thereof) of the BART System in the Bay Area. Their policies towards specific events have also played an interesting role. Unfortunately according to recent research by Renne, policy may have not played as important a role as it should have during the development of the BART System over the past 40 years.[11] Renne looks at transit-adjacent and transit-oriented development of transit stations of the BART System.
Initial studies conducted in the 1970s indicated that the BART System didn't play a tremendous role in land-use patterns.[12] While there were some consequences, it apparently caused minimal changes. However, the BART System has not achieved what it was intended to do in terms of encouraging growth according to a study in the 1990s.[12] In order to do this, stronger public policy initiatives are needed in many other sectors, not just from BART, so that growth is encouraged around the BART corridors and stations.
The methodology behind the initial planning phase of the BART System may hold answers to a lot of the questions that surround the system. For example, the planning was divided up into many segments that seemed to favor municipalities, and had little overarching policy or views.[13]

Cell Phone Shutdown Incident[edit | edit source]

In late 2011, protests were planned in the Bay Area, that were the result of the killing of Charles Hill. In response to the protest, BART had cell phone communications disabled at four of their train stations, to act against the public's ability to organize.[14] This attracted much controversy.[15]

Ticket Pricing[edit | edit source]

The fares for a trip within the BART system can vary, starting from $1.75 and is based on distance. The most expensive trip possible on the system can be $10.90, a rather steep price for public transportation. This methodology differs from a metro area like Minneapolis-St.Paul, where their metro system offers a flat rate for system-wide transit (within 2.5 hours) with a rate based on peak or non-peak hours.[16] Like many other systems, there are multiple types of tickets a customer can purchase, though it is largely based on age and status.[16]

Life Cycle[edit | edit source]

As is the case with any mode in transportation, there are multiple stages that the mode will endure. One of these stages is the magic bullet, which arguably never happened to the Bay Area Rapid Transit System technology. Because the gauge for the rail in the transit system is proprietary, albeit beneficial, it is difficult for others to adopt and is seldom used elsewhere.
Nevertheless, because the municipal governments in the Bay Area have not abandoned the technology, the system has seen multiple improvements throughout its history and continues to receive enhancement projects as well as future planning. It could be argued that given the cost of already installing the system, it would make no sense to abandon the asset, despite the BART System having never met initial ridership projections.

Ridership[edit | edit source]

While the BART System has been fully developed and serves many municipalities within the Bay Area, it has largely failed to meet expectations and initial and preliminary estimates for ridership.[13][17] Furthermore, expansions to meet those ridership estimates have also failed.[18] The initial policies towards the BART System implementation from 40–50 years ago may be to blame for these continually failed projections.[13]

Ridership last year was 105,800,594 alightings. For the past few years, ridership has increased. This has not always been the case and the system has seen a few down years, such as 1980 and a continual decrease from 2001–2004, among others. More notably, the BART System has never seen the rate of ridership increase over any two year span. While it has stretches in which ridership increases for many years, the rate at which that is variable, and we rarely see any sort of sustained exponential growth.

Analysis[edit | edit source]

After conducting an analysis to fit the data from the BART System annual alightings to that of a typical S-Curve used to model the life cycles of modes of transportation, it was concluded that the BART System is very near its peak ridership, which is projected to be 116,121,000. With last years ridership at 105,800,594, and this years ridership expected to be a little higher than that, it can be expected that the system will peak in the next few years.
To put a specific year on this analysis is naive, however, because it would not take into account multiple things including some aforementioned. First of all, the system is seeing current expansion, such as the work being done to connect the BART System to the Oakland International Airport. Also, population is not constant in the Bay Area, but is growing. As public transportation is also a function of the economy, it is simply too soon to state exactly what the peak ridership will be or when the peak will occur. Given that the system remains constant as well as population and economic conditions, it is probable that the system will reach peak ridership within the next 10 years.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c "History of BART", Bay Area Rapid Transit, 2012,
  2. "BART Reports", Bay Area Rapid Transit,
  3. Doppelmayr, 2012,,_Oakland,_USA_detail.aspx.
  4. Bay Area Census 2010, 2010,
  5. a b c d e f g h BR Stokes, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Highway Research Board Special Report, Number 111, 1970.
  6. Saurenman, H. and Phillips, J, In-service tests of the effectiveness of vibration control measures on the BART rail transit system, Journal of sound and vibration, Volume 293, Issue 3, 2006, Pages 888-900.
  7. Bay Area Rapid Transit, 2012,
  8. Jones, J, Oakland Airport Connector to Keep Travelers Moving, Civil Engineering-ASCE, ASCE, Volume 81, Issue 4, 2011, Pages 24-26.
  9. Clipper Card, 2010,
  10. Dinno, A, Powell, C, King, MM, A Study of Riders' Noise Exposure on Bay Area Rapid Transit Trains, Journal of Urban Health, Springer, Volume 88, Issue 1, 2011, Pages 1-13.
  11. Renne, JL, From transit-adjacent to transit-oriented development, Local Environment, Volume 14, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 1-15.
  12. a b Cervero, R and Landis, J, Twenty years of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System: Land use and development impacts, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 31, Issue 4, 1997, Pages 309-333.
  13. a b c Connolly, K and Payne, M, Bay area rapid transit's comprehensive station plans: Integrating capacity, access, and land use planning at rail transit stations, Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Volume 1872, Issue 1, 2004, Pages 1-9.
  14. Chloe Albanesius, When Is It OK to Block Wireless Service? FCC Wants to Know, PC Magazine, March 2012.
  15. Lackert, R, BART Cell Phone Service Shutdown: Time for a Virtual Forum, Fed. Comm. LJ, HeinOnline, Volume 64, 2011, Page 577.
  16. a b Bay Area Rapid Transit, 2012,
  17. West, R and Herhold, P, Bay Area Rapid Transit's San Francisco, California, International Airport Station: Assessment of Transit Patronage and Revenue Forecasts, Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Transportation Research Board, Volume 1895, 2004, Pages 38-45.
  18. M. Bonsiewich, NewsBriefs: BART Ridership Not Meeting Expectations After Expansion (The San Francisco Chronicle), Civil Engineering, ASCE, Volume 75, Issue 11, 2005.