A Leopard Changing Its Spots?

Is that a Clippercard in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Well, thank god for the pandemic. While the coronavirus has decimated BART ridership, that smaller number of riders has an “unexpected” beneft: there are fewer riders to complain about the wretched cars.

Have you ridden on one of the new BART cars—you know, the ones that aren’t as filthy and don’t smell like a locker room, have three doors, and are as rare as hen’s teeth? Well, they are still going to be hard to find because BART is refusing to accept delivery of any more of them from the manufacturer Bombardier until software bugs and some production/design problems are fixed. This was reported in the East Bay Times a while ago. BART was supposed to have 600 new trains by the end of 2020 and a full fleet by the end of 2021. At the end of January BART had only 286 new cars and the full order now won’t be here until spring 2023. But don’t hold your breath.

The article relates that software bugs are causing the trains to more frequently shut down compared to the old cars. The necessary system reboot takes 5-10 minutes. Plus, apparently the wheels go out-of-round more frequently than those of the old cars leading to more trains being hauled to the maintenance yard.

You may also recall that originally the new trains were supposed to be rolled out in January 2018 but that was delayed by problems including a crash during a test run in 2016.

Why does this sound so familiar? Don’t forget that the newish BART stations—Warm Springs, Milpitas, and Berryessa—all ended up opening years behind schedule and being delayed not once, not twice, but many times to the point where BART finally stopped forecasting when the stations would open. BART has a nasty habit of overpromising a bright, glorious future of system improvements and then having to backtrack. Of course that’s after we’ve voted to give them more money and they’ve hoovered up most of the local transportation money.

Project delays are a fact of life. Witness the repair of the Calaveras Reservoir or the Crystal Springs Reservoir Dam Road—they blew their timelines by almost a decade. Unexpected issues almost always crop up that confound timelines. But continuing to provide unrealistic, problem-free timelines to the public is not only deceptive but ultimately a great way to alienate your ridership. How about underpromising and then surprising us with some early good news instead?

Since I haven’t set foot on a BART train since the pandemic began, these problems have had zero impact on me. But it grates on me that when I do return to BART this year instead of being pleasantly welcomed by an improved system, it’s likely to be the same old BART both literally and figuratively. Changing spots is hard to do. In BART’s case it may be impossible.

This November I hope we’re most of the way out of the pandemic in the Bay Area so that we are able to host our annual ride, Mt. Hamilton in the Fall, which historically has had a large turnout. If you live in the City, you’ve had to drive to the start at Penitencia Creek Park. Due to BART’s late opening on Sunday mornings it has been nearly impossible to take public transit to this ride because of the long ride from Warm Springs station. Until now. Taking BART to the end of the line, the Berryessa station, now makes it possible to get to the start with just 20 minutes of easy pedaling. Assuming your train doesn’t undergo a software fault and require a long reboot.