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.
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.