Early-morning BART riders are going to have some company on the train for a few days.
BART staff this week started riding trains at 4 a.m. to get feedback from riders on service changes that will affect them for the next several years.
BART is undertaking a $276 million retrofit of the Transbay Tube to protect it from a "1,000-year earthquake." The plan is to install an inner steel lining throughout the tube, as well as a new pumping system, in hopes of slowing and mitigating any leaks that could occur during an earthquake.
To make that happen, BART will be pushing its service start time from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and single-tracking from 9:30 p.m. to midnight in the tube for the duration of the project. BART says the service changes will save four months and $15 million on the project.
But it will also heavily impact the 2,800 people who BART says use its trains weekdays in that first hour of service.
"There are no other transit options at 4 a.m. A lot of bus service doesn't even start at that hour. So these riders are really relying on BART," said transit system spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
That's why BART is putting its staff on those early-morning trains to see what kind of bus service would most help riders during the project.
BART is asking riders for their opinion on two different options. One would set up new AC Transit routes from the East Bay into San Francisco and enhance already existing early-morning bus service from AC Transit, Muni and SamTrans.
The second would also establish four new express bus routes from popular East Bay stations into the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco.
Trost said setting up the express routes would cost more money, but could actually save riders time and money off their normal BART commute. She also said BART expects to lose riders because of the service change.
"The work has to be done, and it's all about the safety and reliability of the system," she said. "I think everyone agrees when it comes to the Transbay Tube, it's our most vital asset."
In addition to riding the trains, BART staff will also collect feedback in stations over the next few weeks and encouraging riders to take the survey online.
Trost says they'll collect rider feedback through May, after which the board will make a final decision this summer. Depending on which option they choose, work on the Transbay Tube is expected to start either in September 2018 or February 2019.