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City Visions: What Will it Take to Fix BART?

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As BART's ridership grows, passenger satisfaction continues to slip. That's according to BART's new survey of 5,600 riders, who in record numbers reported dissatisfaction with packed, hot, dirty trains and badly maintained stations. But BART's newest board member, Nick Josefowitz, says he has plans to change all that, and we'll hear from him about how he hopes to improve BART's infrastructure, rider experience and management practices.

Guest:

Nick Josefowitz, BART Director representing District 8

Interview highlights:

On BART extensions:

Over the past 20-30 years, BART has really focused on expanding its system, expanding into San Mateo county, expanding into Contra Costa county, and these extensions cost so much money. They make the Central Subway system look like a cheap exercise in local infrastructure. BART has been spending all this money on extensions, rather than taking care of its core systems, rather than making sure its train cars are up to date and its stations are clean. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in now.

I think BART needs to focus on becoming more subway-like in the next decades and less commuter-rail like.  I think we need to be much less focused on extending far out into the suburbs, where there are really very few riders, and focus on serving the needs of the core, especially serving the needs of San Francisco. San Francisco hasn’t had a new station since Embarcadero opened in the ‘70s. And meanwhile all the other counties have been getting extensions and new stations. I think there has been a real misallocation of resources there.

On late-night service:

I wish we could run 24-hour BART today. But there are real limiting factors to what we can do today. It doesn’t mean we always have to accept those as the inevitable, but there are there. BART needs time off to maintain its tracks, in particular to maintain track way systems. Unfortunately, BART was built with very, very little redundancy. There is only one track on either side, and so they can’t, like in New York, shut one track off and run trains on the second track. They need to shut down the system to do this kind of intensive track work. But all is not lost. There are things we can do in the short term and the medium term. In the short term we need to run really great late night express buses that mirror the BART routes so people can get home or go out. We just launched a pilot program that runs express buses between from 24th and Mission, all the way to Pittsburg… We need to make sure the pilot is successful. Information is on the BART and AC transit websites.

On signage and lighting:

We have terrible signage. The solution is pretty simple. It’s putting in more signs right outside of the windows. We know how to do it.  We need to make the signs big; we need to make them bright and we need to improve the lighting in and around the station platforms. This is something that BART last thought about in the 1960s. Some of the lighting fixtures at BART are 45 years old. They can’t even find spare parts when they break because no one makes these things anymore. This is a win-win for everyone because if we replace the lighting fixtures with LEDs, we can save money and energy, and we can reduce BART’s greenhouse gas emissions, and we could provide a much better service for our riders.