The Bay Bridge is at capacity and BART is running out of transbay carrying capacity. We often hear that another passenger rail tube will solve this problem. The inconvenient truth is that given the Bay Area’s current slow pace of passenger rail development it will take an estimated half century to put a new transbay tube and subway system on line.
So what happens in the meantime? For the next 40 or 50 years or more, there will have to be alternative means of getting back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco. Without it, regional growth and the continuing construction of high density infill housing in San Francisco and the East Bay will combine to make the already oppressive traffic backups on both sides of the Bridge even worse. What are the options: Boats? (nice but a very slow way to travel). Car pools and van pools? (sure but they’re not enough). Pending the advent of a second subaqueous rail tube and subway system, what’s needed most is a fast and really good transbay bus service.
AC Transit’s current operation attracts just 14,000 transbay riders a day, a dismally low 6% of BART’s 240,000 transbay riders a day. Since BART trains are already jammed during peak travel hours, this is unconscionable. While forthcoming BART upgrades will temporarily ease the crowding on BART trains, it is projected that the rail system will reach its ultimate transbay carrying capacity within the next 8 to 10 years. To cope with this looming problem the transbay bus lines will have to attract many more riders, which in turn will require that the service get faster and more convenient that it is today. Here is some of what it would take to bring the Oakland/San Francisco transbay bus system up to par:
o Four to eight fast and reliable transbay trunk lines running on 5 – 15 minute headways all day long, established where the demand for supplemental transbay service is greatest.
o Direct routing that emphasizes limited and express service. No detours, no unnecessary turns.
o Interiors that are comfortable and outfitted for long distance travel. Exteriors that are distinctive and attractive.
o Instead of terminating all transbay lines at the First and Mission Transbay Transit Center, some lines should extend to other important San Francisco destinations such as the Financial District, Civic Center, North Beach and the Mission District.
o Transit-only lanes on both sides of the Bay where and as needed. Good maps and good marketing.
Unless something is done soon, the oncoming BART crunch will do great damage to the economy of the Central Bay area and to the environment.