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Of Course BART Costs More ...

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Name:Michael Patrick
Location:San Jose, California, United States

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Tuesday, May 3


Of Course BART Costs More

BART, the Chronicle points out, is more expensive than Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington's rail transit systems:

A 40-mile trip from Pasadena to Long Beach on the Los Angeles Metro is $2.50. A 40-mile trip on BART from Colma to Fremont is $5.15 -- and would increase to about $5.50 with the proposed increases.

. . . . . . . .

Washington's Metro rail system is probably the most like BART. It has a base fare of $1.35 and a maximum of $3.90. Fares have gone up twice in three years. Officials there said they raised them to close an estimated $23 million deficit in the system's $940 million operating budget in 2005.

The article misses something important about the LA system, that most of that trip would take place on light rail vehicles--simple trolleys, not heavy rail, nonstandard-gauge, 8+-car trains à la BART. The Bay Area's system has always used unique technology, and it costs all the more for it.

What the article also does not mention is the vast suburban distances traveled by the BART system. I'm not familiar with MARTA, but a big difference between BART and the Washington Metro is how they serve the center city. In Washington, five lines run through the center city along three separate alignments, and currently no station is more than about 10 miles from DC; in the Bay Area, BART is less focused on a single city and runs to destinations far more distant from the regional center. San Francisco is the densest city in the region and where people are most likely to use BART, yet the system has only one alignment in that city. Many areas of the city with high densities suburban transit planners wish they had are only accessible by crowded buses stuck in street traffic.

In addition, BART has twice as many stations outside Oakland and San Francisco as it does within those center cities. Many of these stations are quite distant from one another, and track ends as much as 40 miles out of Downtown San Francisco. Draw imaginary lines to connect all the system's outermost reaches, and the resulting polygon contains a very large amount of land area--very little of which actually being anywhere near a BART station. It's a very suburb-oriented system compared to Washington's. To build and run a high-capacity, heavy rail system primarily for the suburbs--of course BART costs more.