BART, BART to San Jose, Peninsula, South Bay

BART to San Jose (Volume 2): The Shadow of the Past

Dashed dreams at Millbrae Station.

Buried in the middle of the introductory post about BART to San Jose was the project’s ridership projection for the year 2030: about 104,000 riders. That number was settled on in 2006, but in 2005, the official projection had even gone as high as 111,500, before the two downtown stations at Civic Plaza/SJSU and Market Street were consolidated into a single station under Santa Clara Street. If it sounds like we’ve been here before, it should. The cavernous Millbrae Station and its gigantic five-story parking garage opened on June 22, 2003 to much fanfare, hailed the greatest intermodal station west of the Mississippi River, thanks to its cross-platform transfer between BART and Caltrain, including BART ticket machines and maps coexisting side-by-side with those of Caltrain. Unsurprisingly, at the time, the $1.5 billion, 8.8-mile San Mateo County extension received unstinting praise from San Jose BART obsession-aries Diridon and Guardino — but notwithstanding the attempted fanfare in 2003, the extension has yet to see true fanfare.

The unnervingly empty platforms at Millbrae (not to mention San Bruno and South San Francisco) are a testament to the pain of unfulfilled ridership projections. Because of its terminal location and immediate transfer opportunities to Caltrain, SamTrans, and the Airport, Millbrae was predicted to host a high level of passenger traffic comparable to that enjoyed by stations in San Francisco. But for a combination of factors — including the superior time travel times of Caltrain Baby Bullet service, fare expense, improper service coordination, and the lack of traffic-generating destinations — the station has not come close to meeting its inflated projection. As a result, the expected surplus (which was to be applied toward the Warm Springs extension) did not appear, and Peninsula service was consolidated into a single route through both SFO and Millbrae. Then, when the rest of the Peninsula extension stations were given a service boost after the BART-SamTrans divorce, direct Millbrae-SFO service was completely eliminated, because only a few hundred riders had used the former Millbrae-SFO shuttle each day. Indeed, surveying performance on the entire extension five years after its opening, it appears that the station ridership projections for 2010 will only be reached long after 2010:

Station Projected (2010) Measured (2003)1 Measured (2008)1
South San Francisco 8,000 2,396 5,674
San Bruno 9,800 2,234 4,902
S.F. Int’l Airport 17,800 6,798 9,718
Millbrae 33,000 4,612 8,248
TOTAL 68,600 16,040 28,542

1 Assumes an equal number of entries and exits at each station.

The San Mateo County extension to Millbrae and SFO is a planning mistake that the Bay Area cannot afford to make twice. Including the older Daly City and Colma stations, the 2010 projection for all six San Mateo County stations predicted almost 100,000 riders each weekday. Now, with BART to San Jose, we are being asked to believe that six new South Bay stations will generate over 100,000 riders each weekday. BART to San Jose ridership has been projected over a longer time scale, thereby making it more difficult for skeptics to directly compare the planned San Jose extension to the under-performing San Mateo County extension. But this issue still deserves more attention, and the upcoming installments in this series will attempt to substantiate the problems inherent in the inflated ridership projections for the San Jose extension.



7 thoughts on “BART to San Jose (Volume 2): The Shadow of the Past

  1. Complete folly. BART in the south bay is akin to commuter rail. We already have Caltrain on the peninsula and more feasible rail options on the other side of SJ (existing and planned).

    Spend the money on in-fill stations, a new tube and more lines in SF and parts of Oakland where the density and demand co-exist.

    Posted by Mark | 6 October 2008, 12:35 pm
  2. I’m confused about what might be done if BART to San Jose is canceled. Does VTA have a pot of money they could now use (e.g. for Caltrain Metro East and some portion of Caltrain Electification)? Or does BART have money they could use (e.g. for infill stations or downpayment on a second tube)? Or is it some of both?

    Posted by Steve | 7 October 2008, 4:54 am
  3. I’m pretty much for the San Jose extension. Yes, the Millbrae extension was pretty much a failure, but like you said above, that was mostly due to Caltrain having faster service. I think sine there isn’t really another fast transit option for getting from the East Bay to San Jose, BART is the best choice, simply for the reason of excitement. Sure, Caltrain Metro East may be a more feasable and cheeper option, but then again, say you are an average Joe who drives his car to work every day, and doesn’t use transit that much. Would you be more likely to take BART, or Caltrain Metro East?

    Posted by Geoffrey | 19 October 2008, 1:38 pm
  4. SF and Oakland definitely have the density for more stations…
    I have a feeling that perhaps the Peninsula stations don’t do so well, because the people who can actually afford to buy homes there and work elsewhere, have the money to drive their cars and pay for expensive parking lots.

    Posted by Alexandra V. | 26 October 2008, 7:38 pm
  5. Steve, there’s a varied collection of funds that is funding BART to Warm Springs and Santa Clara, including local sales tax measures whose proceeds could be applied to other projects. As I explained in the last post in this series, BART threatens other important 2000 Measure A projects like Caltrain electrification, so the money could be applied towards that, and improving other corridors with BRT or light rail.

    Incidentally, this whole discussion of closing the rail gap between Fremont and SJ Diridon actually began years ago with a commuter rail option; then, when San Jose politicos seized on BART instead, it was as though all other possibilities had disappeared. In an ideal world, BART to SJ would be canceled and replaced with rather frequent rail service, along the lines of the Caltrain Metro East plan.

    Posted by Eric | 27 October 2008, 7:16 pm


  1. Pingback: BART to Silicon Valley | San Jose Metblogs - 25 October 2008

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