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Later BART Service Could Slam Minority And Low Income Residents

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - 11:15 AM

BART train (photo by Miggslives/Flickr)

(San Francisco – KALW) The results of a passenger survey are in, and they could spell trouble for later weekend BART service.

Earlier this spring, the BART board directed staff to study the impact of changing the schedule (running the last train one hour later Friday nights and the first train an hour later Saturday mornings) on the system’s low-income and minority riders. After surveying nearly 2,000 passengers in multiple languages, staff found that those riders would indeed be disproportionately affected, complicating BART’s plans to move ahead with a fall pilot.

In brief: the survey found that 56% of Friday night riders are minorities, and 49% are low-income (note: the questionnaire did not address potential overlap). On Saturday mornings, 68% were minorities, and 53% low-income. Overall, 40% of Friday night riders were headed to or from work. On Saturday mornings, the number was 70%. Both percentages were significantly higher for low-income and minority riders.

Unsurprisingly, late-night Friday riders overwhelmingly supported extending the train schedule, with 81% of those surveyed in favor of the change. Only a quarter of Saturday morning riders felt the same, given that for them it would mean driving, carpooling, taking the bus, or being unable to reach work at all.

The survey did offer some unexpected insight into BART’s late-night passengers.

Conventional wisdom has it that the last Friday trains are full of partiers, but the survey showed this isn’t necessarily so. Only 14% of late-night passengers said they’d been out at bars or clubs; another 27% said they were visiting family or friends. Taken together, those groups exactly matched the number of riders going to or from work. BART board president Bob Franklin, who has pushed hard for the pilot project, found those numbers encouraging. “That’s the only argument against doing this: that you’re pitting discretionary riders against people going to work,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily hold up.”

Franklin said that he thought the survey was hampered by who it targeted – that is, people already riding BART, as opposed to those who might ride it if trains ran later. The low number of partiers, he said, might provide a clue, since many revelers presumably don’t ride BART because it closes so early. He thought the same might be true of many workers in the entertainment industry. “There’s a big variable that’s unaccounted for,” he said. BART would need to do an additional study to try and find those potential riders.

Franklin said he still wants the pilot to go forward, and that he doesn’t think the challenges are insurmountable. “If not now, then forget it,” he said. “There’s momentum to get it done now.” Though he said he had not yet decided exactly how to move forward, he would consider proposing either a BART-sponsored late-night bus service or hiring new part-time workers to help speed up maintenance. The maintenance staff have said repeatedly that their work window is non-negotiable – in other words, that any extension of service at night must mean later service in the morning. But Franklin and another BART director, Robert Raburn, disagreed. “I don’t think we asked the right questions,” said Raburn. “Instead of asking how we could impinge upon existing service, we should have looked at how we can work with our maintenance department to maintain the trains during a shorter window. That’s what’s going to be needed in order to provide better service.”

The board will discuss the findings at its meeting later this week. They might note the one thing Friday night and Saturday morning riders agreed on: they both thought trains should run more frequently on nights and weekends -- every 15 minutes instead of every 20.

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