State Seeks Hefty Fine For BART in Deaths of Two Workers

Jaxon Van Derbeken reports for ncb investigates : nbcbayarea – excerpt (includes video)

State regulators want to fine the transit agency for alleged safety lapses in the deaths of two track workers hit by a train during a strike in 2013. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit obtained BART’s own surveillance video of the accident that shows how the rookie operator tried but failed to sound the horn before hitting the workers… (more)

Some Problems Plaguing BART Were Built Into System From Start

Design decisions made decades ago at the origin of BART now haunt the system, making it more difficult and more costly to operate, officials with the transit agency say.

Designed at the beginning of the Space Age, the people who built BART wanted an ultramodern transportation system. The first transit system to be built after World War II, the goal was to create a sleek, light and smooth riding system. The hope was to draw people back into public transit – using large, tinted windows, wool seats and carpeting and promising speeds of up to 80 mph.

“It wasn’t too far away from the monorail idea,’’ said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “where families would go on BART like it was kind of a Disneyland ride — you would get on it was almost luxurious in its feel.”

Luxury may have been built in, but the idea of routine failure was not, said BART Operations Manager Paul Oversier.

“Because in the aerospace business failure equals catastrophe well in our business failure is a fact of life,” he said.

Oversier, who came to BART after helping to run the New York subway system, said that system has a whole different approach. It was built to handle failure.

They have express tracks and local tracks they have crossovers almost between every station,” he said. Crossovers are mechanical and electrical switches that allow trains to be routed around problems. BART’s are few and far between, and, according to Oversier: “the ones that we do have are basically in the wrong locations.”

Not having such switches is most problematic in the core part of the system, from West Oakland to Daly City. Here, four lines with trains running every two and half minutes converge to run in one track in each direction. “Basically, if anything happens in that core part of the system,” Oversier said, “the delays to our passengers ad to other trains propagate very quickly and impact many, many trains.”.

The bottleneck was something the designers did not anticipate, one of many design limitations that now hamstring operators.

“A lot of decisions made 50 years ago about this system really limit what we can do today,” said Tom Radulovich, a 19-year member of the BART governing board. The use of ultra- lightweight aluminum cars gliding along on extra-wide gauge tracks at up to 80 mph, he said, had unforeseen consequences.

“We couldn’t order off-the-shelf rail cars – they had to be custom designed, we had to have them custom made,” he said, referring to the latest order of new train cars expected to come on line as soon as next year. He said the new cars cost nearly double the price of more conventional rail cars, which are made of stainless steel and can be mass produced.

Radulovich says nearly all of BART is one of a kind… (more)

RELATED:
‘No Guarantee’ That New BART Trains Will Fix Problem

BART gets real on social media; now it’s Muni’s turn

By : sfexaminer -excerpt

BART’s brutal honesty about its budget shortfalls went viral across the country last week, and now it’s Muni’s turn to step into the social media spotlight.

BART suffered electrical troubles last Wednesday in the East Bay, which sent 50 malfunctioning trains out of service and spawned the usual social media anger.

This time, though, BART tweeted something unexpected to its critics: honesty.

“BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality,” the agency tweeted to its detractors and 135,000 followers.

The direct tone from a public agency spawned coverage from The New York Times, which called it “extreme candor.” A headline from national blog Gawker proclaimed, “Wow – Finally Some Honesty From Government.”

Now, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency may have a lofty new bar to live up to, in terms of government frankness…

Among the new budget proposals are offering a 25-cent discount to those who use Clipper Cards instead of cash, redefining youth for certain Muni discounts from 17 to 18, raising fares on seniors and those with disabilities who receive discounts, and increasing the cost of monthly passes that include BART access by five dollars.

One set of costs is not changeable — the “automatic indexed” fare increases.

In 2017 and 2018, Muni will increase most fares, which, by law, rise with inflation. Adult fast passes with BART access will jump from $83 this year to $89 by 2018, according to the SFMTA…(more)

Almost any transit project is eligible to apply for Federal funds.

(Quick clarification – the Bay Area gets a lot of “formula” funds for transit.  How they are used are up to MTC and the transit agencies, but, in general, these are all spoken for – if they were transferred for other purposes, such as a major capital project, then that means a whole lot of over-the-hill buses would not be replaced at the ends of their useful life, a lot of rail lines will not be given required maintenance, etc.  In addition to the transit programs – of which 49 USC 5307 is by far the largest – there are also three highway “flexible” funds, with CMAQ and STP being the vast majority.  These can be used for transit, again, pretty much at the option of MTC, but, given the extreme underfunding of Bay Area road maintenance, unlikely to occur.  What we are probably talking about is the Federal discretionary capital grant program for transit, which is mainly 49 USC 5309 “new starts.”)

Since the Obama administration has pretty much changed the rules so that factors like ridership, etc., aren’t really part of the evaluation process any more, so, if the Bay Area made this a high priority, it would likely have a chance.  However, there is only so much money to go around nationally, and there is a limit to how much money any region is going to get, and there is an unlimited amount of other requests for this funding, so the real question is, how far up to the top of the list this will be.

The other interesting factor is that it is getting real questionable how much money for transit programs there is going to be.  With the Republicans controlling both houses, and the D’s not really into the program, there hasn’t been a new transportation authorization bill for quite a while, just short-term extensions and, right now, it is difficult to see how there will be a long-term extension any time soon.  Without that, not a whole lot of money for any new projects.  Not saying impossible, am saying makes it more difficult.

OK, let’s step back and take a wild turn.  Let’s say that the objective is to create a transit system that will carry the most people, get it done the quickest, and do it at the lowest cost to taxpayers.  Not really the way things are done, of course, particularly in the Bay Area, but, just as a thing to think about.  OK, going down that road, the way to go is to run long-haul commuter buses on an I-580 HOT lane from the Central Valley to the existing BART end station.  Such lines can be started within two years (the biggest time-taker is getting the buses delivered, now that the roadway is getting close to completion), there are just about no costs for the right-of-way, and this is the type of transit service that has the highest farebox recovery ratio – over 90% is not at all uncommon, although I’m not going to make that kind of prediction without a lot of study.

This would have also been the right way to go before BART went over the hill to the Tri-Valley.  Of course, it was never even considered as an option.

– TR, Transit specialist

This pretty much back up what many of us have been saying for some time. The SFMTA and other municipal transit authorities are not in the transportation business, they are in the construction business. They are also in the empire building business. The more the construct the bigger the public debt to the industry grows since the maintenance and operations costs escalate accordingly. This is why many people are saying NO MORE MONEY for the bottomless pit that claim, “if we build it they will come.”

To the desert valley where there is no water?

How to make the Bay Area’s tangle of public transit options less chaotic

By Cory Weinberg : bizjournals – excerpt

Have you ever tried to transfer from BART to Muni downtown, entering and exiting separate gates after you walk up and down two sets of stairs? Or made the same maneuver transferring from Caltrain to BART in Millbrae? The transfer takes minutes when it should take seconds — and that’s just one way the Bay Area’s transit system can bewilder riders.

SPUR, the region’s urban policy think-tank, just released a hulking 51-page report on how to make the Bay Area’s transit systems less chaotic. Much of the conversation surrounding public transit woes centers on funding shortfalls and overcrowding.

There’s been a 14 percent drop in public transit usage per capita in the Bay Area since 1991. Aside from Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, that’s biggest decrease among large metro areas. That’s bad company to be in if you care about transit-oriented development, traffic, the environment and making life better for 29 percent of Bay Area commuters who pass a county boundary to get to work every day..

The report doesn’t just call for all-out consolidation among agencies because that could be onerous. It does call on state legislators to think of ways to provide financial incentives for just that. SPUR’s interviews found “some apathy among stakeholders about” solving the problem because “state and federal transit funding programs have not emphasized integration.”… (more)

Seamless Bay Area Transit System Proposed to Attract New Riders

By Michael Cabanatuan : techwire – excerpt

The Bay Area’s tangle of public transportation operators is proving to be an obstacle to getting more people to take or try transit, concludes a study to be released Tuesday.

While BART, Caltrain and Muni are bursting at the seams as the region and the economy grow, just 3 percent of Bay Area commuters take transit, and the fragmented nature of the transit system is partially to blame, the report says.

The report, from the regional urban think tank SPUR, calls for creation of an integrated transit system that makes it easier for existing and potential riders to navigate the Bay Area’s labyrinth of transit systems as if they were one.

Titled “Seamless Transit,” it is scheduled to be released in conjunction with a Commonwealth Club transportation summit attended by experts from major metropolitan areas Tuesday… (more)