Madness at Millbrae BARTBy Guy Span
Setting the Way-back machine to 1995, we find the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury's analysis describing BART to the airport. They concluded (as did a Santa Clara County Grand Jury nine years later) that BART was an extremely expensive alternative with little benefit to the county and would consume valuable transit dollars. Worse they cited SamTrans "nebulous" funding plans and reliance on ridership figures.
The Grand Jury concluded that the District should withdraw from BART, that CalTrain was a preferred and lower cost alternative to the Airport and further recommended that a 1996 Grand Jury continue the analysis. None of that happened. In retrospect, the Jury's advice was indeed sage, as San Mateo County's share so far has been identified at $508.7 million ( now up $2 million from the last count after finding a contribution from the County Flood Control District).
And in fact today BART to SFO takes 33 scheduled minutes or 34 to Millbrae, while CalTrain takes 24 minutes with all local stops and just 18 minutes for an express. CalTrain is also cheaper. Despite having similar analysis from the Grand Jury, supporters of BART like politician Quentin Kopp slammed the findings and rammed the project through.
Later in 1995, the Coalition for a One-Stop Terminal (COST) was formed to push for the San Bruno/CalTrain/BART alternative over the mega-palace at Millbrae. COST went on to sue in Superior Court, joined by Peninsula Rail 2000 (now BayRail Alliance) citing strong failures in the Environmental Impact Report. Unfortunately, this bit of reason did not prevail.
The largest ridership station on the extension was supposed to be Millbrae, with some 33,000 a day, later reduced to 30,000 with a projected fare increase. It's now 8,000. The thought was that some 19,000 or so riders a day would transfer to BART from CalTrain (remember even then it was projected to be slower and later more expensive than just keeping one's seat on the real train). The next thought apparently was that so many riders would transfer to BART that the electrified CalTrain to downtown would not be needed, despite an agreement to give equal weighting to both extensions.
This put off electrifying the Peninsula and CalTrain to downtown, two projects that would have done more for San Mateo County than BART ever could (in terms of speed, construction costs, user costs and air quality). The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in its planning role supported what the politicians wanted - not what the riders wanted. That fact is supported by the continuing dismal numbers at Millbrae.
Copyright ©2009 San Francisco Examiner. Published 11/17/2009.