As BART riders feel the crush, the beleaguered transit agency is trying everything it can to ease crowded commuter cars.
Now, BART is even looking to the trash heap.
In a statement released Wednesday, BART announced a small increase in train cars to serve riders. But these aren’t brand new cars off the assembly line. Instead, they’re “banged-up” train cars found in the “forlorn corners” of Hayward and Richmond train repair shops.
These cars are often salvaged for spare parts, according to BART, but a “handful of MacGyver-like mechanics and imaginative engineers” resurrected 14 broken-down train cars for service.
“We wanted to accept the challenge to repair these cars, because we know that we only have a limited number,” said John Allen, a transit vehicle mechanic at the Hayward maintenance shop, in the news release.
The cars have varying levels of damage. According to the BART, some were scorched by electricity, others had melted floors, and one may have run over a tree. This means they also have varying repair times.
According to BART, the project will increase the percentage of train cars in service from 86 percent of trains in service to 89 percent. Each car, they said, can hold up to 140 people in a crowd.
Jeff Hobson, deputy director of transportation advocacy group TransForm, lauded the efforts to run more trains during crowded commute periods.
Still, he said, riders should remember how BART got into the crowding mess in the first place.
“Yes, this is definitely a good thing,” he said, but “the big question is, what do they do to make sure they don’t get into this bind in the future?”
“The reason we’re here is 10-15 years ago (BART) expanded the system, and didn’t maintain the existing system,” Hobson said. Expanding the number of stations served without boosting numbers of cars, he said, strained BART.
Though BART is now doing a better job in maintaining the system it has, he said, “we need to make sure that focus remains.”
That’s the kind of effort BART Board of Directors member Nick Josefowitz told the Examiner BART is pushing, more and more.
“During rush hour, BART cars are stuffed like sardine cans. Our riders are demanding relief,” he said.
Josefowitz mentioned another of these efforts: a partnership with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to craft an incentives to lure riders away from peak times, to ease crowding.
“While true relief won’t come until the new cars start arriving in 2017,” Josefowitz said, “we’re doing all we can to get every last one of our cars out of the shops and onto the tracks.”
In 2016 BART’s “Fleet of the Future” will arrive, and will continue to integrate into the main fleet through 2017. Those new cars are expected to ease crowding in a big way.
Until then, he said, every little bit helps.