Second, BART has now begun to run significantly shorter trains on all of its lines.
The agency has defaulted to running long trains — typically 10 cars, the maximum length the system accommodates, with some lines seeing eight-car “consists” — since the start of pandemic stay-at-home orders took effect in March 2020.
The idea was that the longer trains allowed room for COVID social distancing. Now the agency says that long trains and often very sparsely populated cars have come with unintended consequences.
“Empty spaces encourage anti-social behavior, harassment and targeted crimes,” BART management said in a presentation this week to the agency’s board. On the other hand, the document said “active spaces” — ones with plenty of people around — discourage that negative behavior.
“Eliminating empty and sparse train cars will create a safer, more welcoming environment for women, girls, gender non-conforming people, senior citizens, families and all riders,” the presentation concluded.
BART says shorter trains will bring other benefits, too: They’ll be easier to police, simpler to clean and cheaper to run.
The agency acknowledges riders will see more crowded trains when the changes take effect — although conditions won’t be anything close to the “crush loads” that were the norm for rush hour commuters in the years leading up to the pandemic.
Speaking to the board on Aug. 24, BART Chief Communications Officer Alicia Trost acknowledged that some passengers will be concerned about crowding when they see the shorter trains.
“When the six-car train pulls up, they’re going to be like, ‘What is BART doing to me?’ she said. But she added that the agency plans to carefully monitor any crowding that develops and is prepared to respond.
“We will be watching,” Trost said. “We will be holding ourselves accountable. If the train is just completely packed, we can add more cars. It’s as simple as that.”
What are the big BART service and schedule changes?
Here are the main features of the service changes that went into effect Monday:
Maximum wait times of 20 minutes on all lines at all hours
One of passengers’ major knocks on BART’s night and weekend service is the 30-minute wait between trains. Starting Monday, the maximum scheduled wait time between trains will be 20 minutes, Monday through Sunday during all operating hours.
More frequent weekday service on BART’s most heavily traveled line
BART is reducing headways — the time between trains — on its Antioch-SFO route, also known as its Yellow Line. BART will run six trains an hour on that line between just before 5 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. every weeknight.
Under the previous schedule, which predates the pandemic but has been adjusted at various points over the last three-and-a-half years, Yellow Line trains have run every 15 minutes from early morning through early evening.
Less frequent direct transbay service on BART’s less heavily traveled lines
To make it possible to run trains every 20 minutes during weekend and evening hours, the weekday frequency of direct trains on some lines is being reduced from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes. This is true on the eBART (Pittsburg/Bay Point-Antioch), Red (Richmond-SFO/Millbrae), Orange (Richmond-Berryessa/North San José), Green (Berryessa/North San José-Daly City) and Blue (Dublin/Pleasanton-Daly City) lines.
BART advises that service from all East Bay stations to San Francisco will be available every 10 minutes until 9 p.m. each evening — with a timed transfer along the way.
Shorter BART trains are here
For many years, BART has run 10-car trains during commute hours and shorter “consists” at off-peak times. Faced with concerns about social distancing at the beginning of the pandemic, BART began running as many 10-car trains as it could. That has now changed, and starting Monday the system has gone to eight-car trains on the Antioch-SFO (Yellow) line and 6-car trains on all other lines. BART says it anticipates “manageable” crowding at peak hours, but adds the benefits will more than make up for the discomfort some people might experience riding in significantly fuller cars.
The agency says in an Aug. 24 presentation (PDF) prepared for the board that running shorter trains will make the system safer by making it easier for police and non-uniformed personnel to patrol trains. Having denser passenger loads could also discourage “anti-social behavior,” BART says, and make it easier to keep trains clean. Finally, running shorter trains will save money — an estimated $12 million a year — thus answering calls from critics who have called on BART to operate more efficiently.
How BART’s timed transfers are supposed to work
BART has used timed transfers for years during evening and weekend service to try to provide a delay-free ride for those traveling from San Francisco and the Peninsula to East Bay locations and vice versa. For instance, if you’re on an Antioch (Yellow Line) train and want to get to El Cerrito Plaza on the Richmond (Red) line, BART’s timed transfer stop is at Oakland’s 19th Street station. If the timing is working according to plan, a Richmond train should be arriving just as you get off the Antioch train.
That’s how the system is supposed to work. In practice, unexpected delays for either train involved in the timed transfer mean passengers will miss their connection and wind up waiting longer than anticipated to get home, or to the show or the airport.
How often do the timed train meets get fouled up?
BART’s latest quarterly performance report (PDF), covering the period from April through June, shows that trains met as scheduled between 75% and 80% of the time on weekdays and between 85% and 90% on weekends. Trains running from San Francisco and the Peninsula to the East Bay were slightly more likely to experience delays getting to the transfer stations.