Regular Bay Area Rapid Transit riders are going to notice significant changes to train schedules starting next week.
While the details are complicated, the most important thing to know is that most trains will run more frequently, and people can expect a more reliable service.
Starting Monday, Sept. 11, BART will implement 20-minute wait times on all trains daily for the first time in its history. Currently, most train wait times are between 15 and 30 minutes. According to BART spokesperson Alicia Trost and John FitzGibbon, BART’s manager of scheduling and planning, this change comes after a thorough analysis of commute patterns and a recent uptick in riders.
Train departure and arrival times will also be more predictable. In the past, specific times would sometimes change depending on the day.
The 20-minute wait times will be most noticeable on the weekends when the service receives an influx of passengers traveling to San Francisco. Traditionally, BART trains leave every 30 minutes for San Francisco on most lines.
BART will also implement more trains on lines with the busiest commutes during weekdays. For example, the yellow line that runs between Pittsburg Bay Point and SFO will depart every 10 minutes until 9 p.m. on weekdays, as opposed to the previous weekday schedule of departures every 15 minutes.
Other stations near major state highways will have ten-minute train waits to high-trafficked destinations on weekdays and weekends, including San Francisco and Berkeley.
Finally, BART officials say riders should expect more frequent trains to and from the San Francisco International Airport. Starting Monday, there will be nine trains per hour until 9 p.m. to SFO, moving up from eight per hour, and there will be three trains every hour from 9 p.m. to midnight, as opposed to two trains per hour.
But making these changes will lead to reduced service on some BART lines and to and from some cities. For example, weekday trains between Daily City and Dublin on the Blue Line will be slightly less frequent, adding five minutes to standard waits.
BART can offer faster service on its lines partly because of the greater availability and reliability of its modern line of Seahawk-colored trains, which began operating five and half years ago. According to BART, the new trains can stay online for twice as long before servicing.
“Our new cars are cleaner, require less maintenance, have better quality surveillance cameras, and offer a better customer experience with automated next-stop displays and announcements,” said Trost last month.
Trost told us that while most older BART train cars will be offline starting next week, they will use them during high commute times and special events. BART expects to fully sunset the old train cars, which began service decades ago, in 2024. There might be a not-so-solemn ceremony. Maybe George Lucas will show up?
BART is also seeing an uptick in riders
August ridership numbers for BART were the system’s highest since the pandemic, with about 4.5 million people going through its gates. This is a promising development as August is usually a slow month when many travel with their families and children return to school. Daily ridership also went up to 166,637 on weekdays during August.
These numbers still are less than half the average monthly and daily ridership the system serviced at its peak in the years before the pandemic. Tuesday-through-Thursday service, for example, typically serviced about 400,000 daily commuters in 2019.
BART staffers have noted that even as more people are getting back on trains, commuting behavior is still different than it was before the pandemic. Most commuters do not use BART five days a week like they used to, highlighting the need for new sources of long-term funding, like state funds that have helped address budget deficits.
Earlier this summer, transit advocates lobbied Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislators to fully fund train services like BART. Ultimately, the state Assembly and Senate passed a budget bill that Newsom signed, which restored the $2 billion in capital funds. This decision temporarily eased worries that the state’s train system would end up in a financial “death spiral.”
But there still needs to be a long-term solution to help BART continue service because ticket fares have primarily financed the system for decades and ridership numbers just aren’t strong enough.
To help cut the short-term need for operational funds, BART recently announced a fare increase of 5.5% starting January 1, 2024. The service expects to raise prices by another 5.5% on January 1, 2025. Those increases should raise $26 million in operating funds.