$6 Fare For Oakland AirBART? Maybe A Bus-Only Lane Would Have Been Better.

Back in 2009, BART officials grappled with a pivotal decision about how to connect BART to the Oakland Airport. Among the options to improve the unpleasant and slow “AirBART” bus shuttle: a “people-mover” automated train, riding on an elevated track to the airport, and a much less expensive bus-only lane down the middle of Hegenberger Road. Transit advocates commissioned a study showing that the “RapidBART” bus option (as they called it) along Hegenberger was faster, would generate more riders, and would be 1/6 of the price to build.

Needless to say, they lost that battle in favor of the more glamorous elevated train, with federal stimulus dollars on the table and a crushing recession motivating the need to create skilled jobs.

AirBART airport station under construction in April.

AirBART airport station under construction in April.

But the battle then shifted to the cost of the ride. These same advocates didn’t want a below-cost fare that would then necessitate that all BART riders subsidize the more expensive people-mover option. They appear to have won that battle. AirBART will cost $6 a ride, each way.

I live in the East Bay and often take AirBART to the airport. In fact, my family just rode it on Saturday. The current fare is $3 on a rickety bus that takes forever. I’ve spent many a cold night waiting 20 minutes for AirBART, then another 15 minutes on the BART platform for a train. So I’d love a faster, more regular connection.

But $6 a ride? For my family of five, $30 just for the AirBART portion alone starts to make driving and parking — or a taxi — look a lot more sensible. Now maybe business or solo travelers are the target market, but even there, $12 roundtrip on top of the BART fare sounds steep. A taxi might even be competitive.

All I (and I assume most people as well) really want from the connection is a faster, more regular service. The 23 mph cable car they’ve built for the AirBART train is unlikely to provide that value, especially at that fare. Perhaps a cheaper, bus-only lane connection would have been the best way to go after all.


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