Currently, individual BART routes run on 15 minute headways during the weekdays, but on nights and weekends, headways increase to 20 minutes. Earlier this year, BART proposed decreasing headways to 15 minutes all the time, any day of the week. The money to pay for the additional maintenance, labor and operating costs came from a fund of $1.3 billion marked for transit, but which Governor Schwarzenegger — demonstrating his usual severe lack of vision when it comes to transportation issues — threatened to take away from transit agencies. To protest the governor’s pronouncement, BART officials left the costs associated with increased service in their budget. However, BART spokesman Linton Johnson announced today that starting January of 2008, trains will run every 15 minutes in any case, citing the fact BART has taken in more fare money than expected, because ridership has increased faster than expected.
Decreasing all headways to 15 minutes, which has long been one of BART’s unfulfilled goals, is an important move for a few reasons. Shorter headways will bring the BART system one step closer to being a true urban metro, shifting away from a commuter rail system that is primarily meant to shuttle downtown workers between the city and the suburbs. BART is currently in the midst of realizing that it must increasingly take on the role of a metro, and future long-term plans for the agency include another urban line, as well as the construction of infill stations along existing routes.
More practically, though, 15 minutes is sort of a magical number in the transit world. Most people can bear a wait of 15 minutes but will become increasingly annoyed at any wait longer than that. If riders know that the wait time for a train will be at most 15 minutes (and, in the core of the system, realistically much less than that), they will be much more likely to use BART frequently and spontaneously, without any need to consult a timetable. Shorter headways at night and on weekends should also encourage more people to ride BART for recreational trips, rather than just as a way to get to and from work.
I would argue that except in the core of the system, there probably is not currently a demand for the additional trains, but I am certainly not complaining about any increased transit service! This is definitely an important step in the right direction.