KCBS In Depth: BART Strike, Transit and The Bay Bridge

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Bay Area Transit Workers Go On Strike
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — With the BART strike in its first day we’re now experiencing what we knew ahead of time: The Bay Area simply doesn’t have sufficient alternative transit for the 400,000 BART riders.

But the question is should we? Is it good regional transportation planning to have that alternative or is it simply unrealistic?

Steve Hemminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, helps coordinate regional transportation planning and finance for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

“I just don’t think it’s something we can afford. Having some level of redundancy in our system is a good idea. One of the things we’re doing with the ferry system is we’re building additional docking facilities that on a regular workday we probably won’t need, but in the event of a major earthquake we might.”

As Chairman of the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee, Hemminger also oversees the construction of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge; the largest public works project currently underway in the United States.

He said that the existing transit network has trouble staying funded.

“We just don’t have the money to have a whole lot of buses and ferry boats lying around in the event of, especially something like a BART strike, which is really a self-inflicted wound,” he said.

Hemminger said it would be nice if BART unions and management would go beyond the “cyclical” four-year deal once in a while. “BART has had a very difficult and tension-filled relationship with its unions.”

Hemminger added that much of the commute is not across the Bay waters, but rather is north and south. “Ferry boats don’t serve those north-south corridors very well. BART is a faster trip across that Bay than a ferry boat is.”

Many notice the capacity issues not only on BART, but Muni and Caltrain as well. Hemminger is optimistic and sees it as a good problem.

“It wasn’t too long ago that people were complaining about empty buses, running around and people saying ‘why are you wasting all this money on public transit?’”

Instead of focusing on outward expansion of the existing transportation network, Hemminger said the focus should shift to the reinvestment of the core capacity of the BART system; meaning getting more trains through the Trans-Bay Tube with a computer system.

“One of the reasons that BART is trying to secure some concessions from their employees in terms of cost is so they can devote more and more of their resources to a capital reinvestment of their system so that they can carry the kind of passengers that they’re going to see in the years ahead.”

BART generally gives away its parking for less than market value according to Hemminger. “If they hike their parking fees, they would generate some additional revenue,” he said.

“In my view a good use of that revenue is to provide additional bus and other kinds of connecting service to the BART station so that you can try to get more people into that system without necessarily providing more parking,” he said adding that using the transit system is still cheaper than driving a car.

When the discussion shifted to the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span, Hemminger said that a fix is being put into place over the broken bolts on the bridge that have caused so much controversy. He noted that the debate ever since the bolts broke has been about whether or not they should open the new bridge to traffic.

“I think the debate we ought to have is whether we ought to close the old one because the old one is just not safe in the event of a major earthquake. It’s probably not all that safe in the even of a moderate earthquake.”

He added that the new bridge is safer today than the old one by a “long shot”.

As far as the “saddle fix” and repairing of the bolts goes, we can expect an announcement and the release of a report on July 10th.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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