What if BART had gone on strike?
With the transit system's union and management in a tentative deal, the thought of a strike is already fading from people's minds. But we ought to ask ourselves if we'd be better off without BART.
I pass by BART's Millbrae station daily on my commute. It's a monument to a failed planning process. BART leaders schemed up a plan to connect the system to the airport by a roundabout route -- and thought that Caltrain riders would transfer in vast numbers to a service that's slower and more expensive. Transit riders, who know how to do simple math about their time and budget, stuck to Caltrain -- and taxpayers are stuck with subsidizing the system's vastly underused branch through San Mateo County.
If BART went on strike, Silicon Valley wouldn't even notice. They probably wouldn't even register a strike if BART's long-awaited extension to Santa Clara County got built. The planned route manages to steer clear of employment centers like the Golden Triangle in north San Jose and the office parks along Highway 101. Google and Yahoo would stay far off the BART map.
I don't say that as some kind of anti-transit zealot. I haven't owned a car since I moved to the Bay Area in 1995, and I depend on BART to get to San Francisco and Oakland's airports. I recognize that BART serves hundreds of thousands of daily commuters, unclogs the Bay Bridge, and keeps San Francisco's Financial District filled with workers.
But what if the money we'd put into BART over the years had gone into other regional transit systems?
We'd certainly have an electrified Caltrain running to downtown San Francisco at a faster speed than the current Baby Bullets -- and perhaps running on the Bay Bridge or in a new tunnel under San Francisco Bay to Oakland and beyond. We'd also have real commuter rail from the East Bay to Silicon Valley, the region's most vital employment center -- not the paltry ACE and Capitol Corridor services people have to make do with.
We'd have light rail, a modern version of the Key System, crisscrossing the East Bay.
And we'd certainly have faster service in San Francisco, the city most dependent on public transit. (Isn't it ridiculous that transit commuters take less time to go from Walnut Creek to downtown San Francisco than it does to cross the city?) BART director Tom Radulovich, a lone voice of reason on the BART board, has been pushing BART to open new stops in San Francisco and other core urban areas it serves, which might actually raise transit ridership. Sadly, he's been mostly ignored.
We've put billions into BART. The system's imperially minded managers want to keep expanding the system, rather than making it serve transit riders better. The tiff between BART's union and management is a sideshow. The real question is why Bay Area transit is such a circus act to begin with.
Owen Thomas, online editorial director of NBCBayArea.com, rides two buses, a train, and light rail to get to work -- but not BART.