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Friday, May 15, 2009

$550 Million for a BART Oakland Airport People Mover?

$550 million, that's the approximate price tag from BART officials who just yesterday approved to start the bidding process for this massive project. This planned project is to link the Coliseum BART station with the Oakland airport with a people mover.

That sounds really expensive, and is it the right idea for this transit agency to invest this much money for this kind of service?

Let's take a look at the BART extension that connected the system to the San Francisco International Airport, that is right now a big failure. BART has built extra tracks to support the newest terminal stops at SFO and Millbrae, but they are so underutilized at this time that the tracks are being used as a defacto storage yard for trains. BART also trimmed train service to the area where many still end their route at Daly City, while only one dedicated line serves the airport (full-time) while two other lines switch around to serve Millbrae.

I still see passengers take the train to SFO, but not in the greater numbers the public would expect.

BART expects a huge boom in service by building a people mover to serve Oakland Airport, but is this a good investment? In my opinion, the answer is absolutely not. The current AirBART bus program works great and is really affordable.

One of the best "airport to train" people mover systems is the AirTrain program at JFK airport. They have trains that serves the terminals, but also have branch lines that reaches the New York Subway system (known as the best subway in the world), and the Long Island Railroad (the most heavily used commuter rail service in the USA). Their investment is totally worthwhile because the trains have to go longer distances to reach the heavily used network of subway and commuter rail, and the price cannot be beat. It only costs $5 to take the AirTrain and $2 to $5 for the subway or commuter rail to get into Manhattan. A taxicab costs at least $50 and even takes longer than just riding the train. The Port Authority may consider extending the AirTrain to Penn Station due to its huge success.

When comparing JFK to Oakland, it's a big difference. BART is quite expensive to ride on, and the BART Board wants you to also pay a $6 fee each-way to ride the people mover. For the price you pay, you might take advantage of the good rates on those shared ride vans like Super Shuttle or split a taxicab fare.

Here are my alternative options to save hundreds and millions of dollars:
  • Build a bus rapid transit line using existing streets. Signal priority lights can make the journey even faster. Look at AC Transit, their "rapid" lines are very successful.
  • If BART still wants a rail system linking the airport to the station, how about a monorail? Conventional rail and people movers make huge shadows and makes it look ugly. Monorails make smaller shadows and makes a smaller footprint. Plus, the rails and support beams can be fabricated at an off-site location and they simply dig a hole and plop it right in. Lastly, Monorails are extremely quiet because they use rubber tires instead of steel wheels. We all know what can happen to BART trains when they don't grind the rails (SCREEEECH!!!), so why not invest in a quiet monorail to not piss-off the neighbors? This is way cheaper.
Will someone please knock some common sense into the BART Board? And have them call Disneyland, they'll give you all the info you need.

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