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.