By Taylor Huckaby, BART Spokesperson
(Contributed by BART Legislative Officer Paul Fadelli)

Since 1972, billions of trips have been taken on BART.  Our trains and stations are central to Bay Area culture, knitting together friends, family, businesses, employees, landmarks, and opportunities.  When we first opened, BART was the envy of the world – the first to use computer-controlled trains.

However, what was cutting edge in 1972 no longer serves the complex needs of our region.  Growth has been a bittersweet experience for everyone – and BART has not been spared from either the pressures of population change or the passage of time.  We fit right into the middle of many of the most pressing questions of our day, on every issue from traffic, to housing, to environmental concerns.

We are now serving 430,000 passengers on an average weekday, the equivalent of the population of Atlanta, and facilitate tens of millions of dollars in daily economic productivity.  The commute – which, frankly, is no fun no matter what the method – has become intolerable for residents, many of whom find themselves so closely squeezed together they can reasonably guess the type of shampoo their neighbors use.  Stations and signage are dated and worn, and at times our platforms can be uncomfortable and crowded.

Yet there is a silver lining to these growing pains, as greater demand for public transit is, generally speaking, a good problem for cities to have. As we have aged, the vibrancy of this community and the quality of the Bay Area’s workforce has soothed the most pressing needs of our aching system.   An army of BART engineers, welders, machinists, electronic technicians, mechanics and system workers have extended the life of our train cars and physical infrastructure in extraordinary ways, working ever harder to offset ever-increasing stresses.

Additionally, record ridership has enabled us to find the funding for many of the solutions needed to bring us into the 21st century, funding for which we are truly grateful.  This year alone we have hired more groundskeepers, more system maintenance workers, and more mechanics. We are building a new maintenance complex to ensure the downtime between car breakdowns stays at a minimum. We are modernizing our stations. And to top everything off, our new, larger fleet of train cars is right on the horizon – the first of which arrived in March.

However, there is a massive, looming problem that must be addressed separately from the work we’ve already been doing to improve.  The bones of BART, all the miles of power transmission cabling, rails, tunnels, and track components working quietly in the background, are decaying.  BART’s core was not built to last much further where we are now, and the cost of repairing and replacing what we have with what we need exceeds whatever monetary gains have come from increased ridership. Just our power replacement requirements alone over the next decade have a price tag of $1.2 billion.

To use an analogy: when building a home, every homeowner must choose a roof, and that roof has a specific lifespan.  You can afford to patch here and there over the years and fix minor damage from weather, but eventually the whole roof must be replaced at great cost.  That’s where we are, and that’s what we mean when we say much of the system is at the end of its useful life.

Part of BART’s plan to rebuild is a $3.5 billion general obligation bond measure, proposed to go before voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco voters this November.  The measure is a no-frills package based on hard data—collected using international best practices and a strong internal accountability program (asset management software) which gives us the exact life span for all the tens of thousands of different physical parts of BART.

This is about replacing 90 miles of worn rail, waterproofing our leaky tunnels below sea level in downtown San Francisco, modernizing the physical parts of our train control system, fighting fault line creep. This isn’t about pet projects, and we’ve been sensitive to the needs of our community. To that end, we’ve held over 200 meetings with diverse groups throughout the Bay Area to give our plan context, and to get an idea of how we can improve the lives of the people we serve.

At these meetings have been elected officials, businesses, labor groups, environmental organizations, seniors, disability advocacy groups, community organizers, social justice advocates, and individuals—and BART remains committed to having an open conversation about our future. We are here to listen and engage.

Since the last earthquake protection bond measure in 2004, we’ve proven ourselves to be a responsible and trustworthy steward of public funds. We’ve reinforced parking garages, strengthened maintenance facilities, fortified stations, and protected the Transbay Tube—guarding our riders against the threat of earthquakes while building trust and saving millions of dollars.

Furthermore, if the bond measure passes, part of BART’s plan is to establish an Independent Oversight Committee to ensure your capital investments are carried out with an excess of transparency, accountability, and integrity. The Committee will be able to regularly audit BART, and will publish an annual, public, independent report outlining any concerns that could arise from how we carry out our rebuilding efforts.

Back in 1962, the Bay Area led the world in deciding to invest in its future – a future of safe travel, reliable transit, and reduced congestion.  Ever since then, we have been a proud and enduring staple of this region’s culture, its workforce, and its values.  It’s time to rebuild.