Carmaggedon? Not!

Many including CNN predicted that the BART strike would “paralyze San Francisco.” “Public transit in San Francisco came to a screeching halt Monday morning as Bay Area Rapid Transit unions went on strike,” says CNN.

Not exactly. First, BART accounts for less than a third of the region’s transit commuters. Buses account for more than half, and the buses didn’t go on strike.

Second, BART just doesn’t carry enough people to lead to paralysis even if all of them drove instead (and in fact many rode buses). As a state highway patrol officer noted, “If I didn’t know there was a BART strike, I wouldn’t have thought anything was different after looking at the traffic.”

This shouldn’t be too surprising. According to census data, about 5 percent of Bay Area commuters take BART to work while 70 percent drive. Even if there were no other vehicles on the road (in fact, even during rush hour, most vehicle trips are not commuter trips), that would add less than 7 percent more cars to the road. The addition of 7 percent more cars might be noticeable to some, but it would not create paralysis.

In fact, report indicate that the biggest problems were caused by “rookie drivers being unaccustomed to lane merges and lacking FasTrak transponders that would allow them to avoid the clogged cash lanes.” At the same time, other people adjusted their travel plans so that the number of cars crossing the Bay Bridge during morning rush hour was actually 1,000 fewer than the previous week.

A BART strike certainly inconvenienced people who usually took BART to work. But transit supporters and reporters have an exaggerated sense of the role transit plays in most cities. Even in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has the second-highest share of transit commuting of any American urban area, transit is relatively unimportant, carrying little more than 4 percent of passenger miles of travel, and only about a third of that is by BART.

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17 thoughts on “Carmaggedon? Not!

  1. Sandy Teal

    The BART workers should strike and seek to extract every rent seeking dollar they can from the urban planning industry.The more urban investment, the more rent can be extracted by the workers. It raises the middle class union folks up to upper class by taking money from the loser classes, but it is supported by the movie stars who never take public transportation so it has the politically correct endorsements.

  2. LazyReader

    Usually when workers strike, their inactivity has a damaging effect on the surrounding people. Coal strikes….cold winters, Mill strikes, steel shortage, etc. But the fact the overall pattern of people getting around without significant distraction makes BART appear almost like a vestigial organ, unnecessary. Now they’ve been publicly outed as functionally useless to San Franciscans overall and despite all the money spent on it and it’s employees they’re in a financial hole but the buses are working….

  3. Fred_Z

    What, a distributed processing network of roads absorbed and handled extra traffic easily when the mainframe died? Sort of like an internet? Nobody tell Dan and the other planners, it might upset them.

  4. msetty

    Ignoramuses who don’t live in the Bay Area spouting off about something they know NOTHING about.

    According to press reports this group obviously haven’t read, on average the commute time increased about 30 minutes each way in the freeway corridors served by BART. That’s a lot of otherwise wasted time saved spread across many tens of thousands of commuters in addition to those who ride BART, and sufficient to pay for BART’s costs a number of times over.

  5. Frank

    “A typical station agent or train operator is paid a salary in the low $60,000 range but also collects an average of $11,000 to $16,000 in overtime, according to BART. The transit agency estimates the value of benefits – including a pension with no employee contribution and health insurance for $92 a month – at $50,000 a year.”

    Wow. That’s far more than I make as a teacher with a master’s degree. I also don’t get paid for my OT. I also am forced to contribute to the state pension, further reducing my take-home pay. Maybe I should go on strike…or…

    Where can I sign up to be a BART station agent?

  6. Fred_Z

    When I have to pay overtime to my employees it’s rarely because of unforeseeable events and nearly always because I have erred in my planning and supervision.

    Supervisors who are complicit in OT of as much as 26% are disastrously incompetent, gloriously incompetent, super duper incompetent. i. e., your average government supervisor.

    Greetings from Canada and may your Obamacare not be supervised by people such as these. Faint hope of that, eh?

  7. metrosucks

    “Ignoramuses who don’t live in the Bay Area spouting off about something they know NOTHING about.”

    Oddly enough, a quick look at Google Maps with traffic speed turned on reveals none of the abysmal 100 mile stop & go logjams one would expect when the “critical” service carrying 1% of commuters grinds to a halt. Indeed, if anything, traffic appears to be exceptionally smooth right now, if anything (and yes, I have been to the Bay Area many times).

    The hysteria from the media is entirely typical, as they would obviously be sympathetic to the union thugs, sympathetic to “mass” transit boondoggles, and would like to paint BART as utterly necessary for anyone to move an inch in the Bay Area.

    As for the impenetrably dense asshole Michael Setty? One suspects that he is upset, instead of being happy, because the predicted traffic jams AREN’T happening, and therefore proving the Antiplanner’s point that his dear choo choo train isn’t being missed by many people.

  8. MJ

    According to press reports this group obviously haven’t read, on average the commute time increased about 30 minutes each way in the freeway corridors served by BART. That’s a lot of otherwise wasted time saved spread across many tens of thousands of commuters in addition to those who ride BART, and sufficient to pay for BART’s costs a number of times over.

    Link? Better yet, data?

  9. metrosucks

    And I must add, yet again, that I just checked traffic in the Bay Area at 8:05am, prime time for heavy backups, and everything seems rather normal, mild even, with the expected 100 mile gridlocks yet to materialize. Perhaps BART just isn’t that important after all, except to rail at any cost fanatics like msetty.

  10. C. P. Zilliacus

    msetty wrote:

    According to press reports this group obviously haven’t read, on average the commute time increased about 30 minutes each way in the freeway corridors served by BART. That’s a lot of otherwise wasted time saved spread across many tens of thousands of commuters in addition to those who ride BART, and sufficient to pay for BART’s costs a number of times over.

    Mr. Setty, beyond knowing that BART’s well-compensated employees want more and are on strike as a result, I am not going to comment from the other side of the continent about the the impact(s) that the lack of BART service is having on the highway network in the Bay Area.

    Certainly it is causing some problems for regular BART patrons.

    But there are now datasets that allow an engineer to analyze observed traffic speeds on freeways and other roads and streets with reasonably high volumes of traffic. I am familiar with the datasets produced by Inrix (there may be other sources available as well). When the BART strike is over, it should be possible to quantify the impact that the lack of rail service had on the highway network in terms of observed speeds.

  11. Hugh Jardonn

    metrosucks writes, “The hysteria from the media is entirely typical, as they would obviously be sympathetic to the union thugs, sympathetic to “mass” transit boondoggles, and would like to paint BART as utterly necessary for anyone to move an inch in the Bay Area.”

    If you surf around, you’ll find some interesting perspectives among the usual media slant. For example, Rob Nagel writes that “Telecommuting for work takes hold during BART strike.”
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/telecommuting-for-work-takes-hold-during-bart-strike/Content?oid=2492923

    Telecommuting, or “telework,” if done properly could eliminate lots on unnecessary travel, putting an end to lots of the discussion on this list.

    The usually left-wing San Jose Mercury wrote that “Their (unions) thinking is completely divorced from reality.” They continue, “It’s been 16 years since the last BART strike. Given the unreasonable labor demands, this one was inevitable. The alternative was a financial train wreck that could cripple the system for decades to come. BART trustees were right to hold their ground and need to keep it up.”
    http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_23577926/mercury-news-editorial?source=pkg

    Maybe it is time for California to adopt the Taylor Law, prohibiting public employee strikes.

  12. bennett

    NPR had a piece on BART on my drive home yesterday. To paraphrase “nobody seems to care. Traffic didn’t get worse, slug lines weren’t any longer, buses were a little more full, and BART riders are able to make other arrangements for the time being.”

    Seeing as I get all my news for NPR and online sources, my conclusion is the the “hysteria” about the media reporting on this issue around here is worse than the “hysteria” of the actual reporting.

    Here’s a clue for Mr. O’Toole and Metrosucks, for hysteria-free reporting turn off the TV.

  13. Frank

    Bennett, it’s not just TV. I use Google News, and many newspapers and other media are running headlines like these, even still:

    San Francisco BART strike snarls traffic , drains $73 million a day
    BART Strike Day Two: Commute Snarled Again, No Negotiations Scheduled
    Bay Area traffic grinds to a halt as BART workers strike
    BART strike snarls traffic for second straight day
    BART strike: Commute chaos rages on as strike begins with no end in sight
    San Francisco area rail strike causes traffic nightmare

    Also, I call for a moratorium on the use of “snarl” in headlines.

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