As students from SF State and other schools throughout the Bay Area are back in session, BART, Muni and Caltrain have seen a spike in ridership in September, marking a record-breaking year for public transportation.
This year BART saw nine days of the highest ridership ever recorded. On the average weekday, the Bay Area’s largest transit agency serves 380,000 passengers, but in September there were four days where it exceeded 400,000.
“Increased ridership is good news for the Bay Area because it helps increase mobility and it gets people out of their cars,” said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
Muni has also experienced an influx of passengers this year. An estimated 4 to 6 million additional people rode the city’s transit agency during the 2012 fiscal year, according to Muni spokesman.
Trost said BART’s increase in recent weeks is due to schools resuming, sporting events and concerts throughout the Bay Area. Also, rising gas prices have affected ridership, since fuel is 40 cents higher compared to two months ago.
Jason Henderson, associate professor in geography and human environmental studies, said a similar spike of ridership in 2008 resulted from rising gas and toll prices on Bay Area bridges.
“Gas went up to $4. Plus, you have a population that’s already pro-public transportation,” Henderson said, whose expertise is in urban transportation. He also said the housing boom within the last decade near BART stations has also encouraged ridership.
In response to the increase of riders, BART is operating all of its working trains and has added four extra trains along the Richmond-Millbrae lines in each direction during the evening commute, said Trost. Though 15 percent of its trains are undergoing mandated maintenance, trains are being pulled from less congested lines to accommodate lines with the most passengers.
Business major Jack DeRose takes BART from Oakland to SF State. Although he thinks taking the train to SF State is convenient, he wishes BART would run more often, especially in the evenings.
Henderson believes BART has dual personalities: a commuter train serving those who live far from the city and a metro rail that serves within San Francisco. Although its commuter portion is beneficial for those living in the suburban areas of the Bay Area, BART needs to focus on “the core” of the transit system — the stations with the most foot traffic between downtown Berkeley and Daly City, Henderson said.
“When over 400,000 people are using BART, you are going to have a lot of crowded trains,” Henderson said. “The outer core area passengers are getting the better end versus the inner core.”
Caltrain broke records this year as it averaged 50,000 riders per weekday in the month of June. The high speed train that connects San Francisco to the South Bay, has increased its ridership by 70 percent since the baby bullet train was introduced in 2004, and continues to rise each year. Caltrain’s spike in recent years has also resulted from Giants’ games and new businesses in the Mission Bay neighborhood, which is the busiest station.
On the other hand, transit agencies outside of San Francisco are seeing a decline and restructuring its operations to encourage ridership.
In the East Bay, AC Transit will cut bus stops in order to reduce commute time. According to its website, with the introduction of the Rapid bus service, “riders have seen their commute time drop by 20 percent. Ridership has increased by more than 65 percent, and people are leaving their cars at home.”
Samtrans has seen a decline in ridership as well this year. The transit agency in San Mateo county is currently conducting a series of surveys, getting feedback from riders on how to improve service.
This month, Samtrans introduced the ECR, which would combine two buses into one line on the weekends. This line would operate along El Camino Real from Daly City BART to Palo Alto every 20 minutes. This was proposed to reduce congestion between buses that may delay one another and to simplify two routes with similar destinations. The peninsula’s transit is also proposing cutting service to underutilized bus lines, which would go into effect January 2013.
“The rider’s needs have changed,” said Christine Dunn, Samtrans and Caltrain spokeswoman. “We want to use what works, less of what doesn’t and try new things.”
Dunn said the ECR line will be implemented on weekdays if riders find it effective.
“For several years we introduced express service and it’s proven to be popular,” Dunn said. “Plus, people are very aware of environmental issues here.”
Though people are opting for public transit this year in the city, finding a parking spot has not improved. According to Rose, revenue is about the same as last year.