|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|
|S.F. Int’l Airport||17,800||6,798||9,718|
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.