News from the San Francisco Bay Area’s rapid transit system is that ridership off-peak hours and weekends is dwindling, which impacts the BART District’s financial bottom line. In response BART is considering targeting that ridership with free and discounted promotional tickets, as well as a means-based ticket program.
Such response from marketing professionals is often routine. However, such response from BART is bizarre.
49% of people who responded to BART’s survey question “Why not ride BART on Weekends?” indicated concern about crime on BART (26%) and homelessness on BART (23%). There appears to be no follow up question whether if tickets were free potential riders would ignore these concerns, even if they could imagine the possibility of more homeless people and more people bent on crime also taking advantage of free rides.
35% of respondents to the question “Why not Commute on BART?” indicated stations were too far from where the respondents lived. Would free tickets overcome that concern, even when BART officials eye removing “park & ride” spaces to get commuters out of their private vehicles, and even when there might not be viable ways for BART riders to reach stations other than by personal vehicle?
BART is not alone as a transit agency in its loss of revenue, but it serves as example of ravages inflicted by a cluster of intractable problems plaguing California:
* High costs of construction, operations and personnel leave little room for services such as providing sufficient security guards to ensure safety and custodians to ensure cleanliness.
* Astronomical housing costs that force people to move as far into suburbs as California’s stringent urban boundaries rules allow, where principal transit lines do not reach and local transit is scarce or non-existent.
* Large and growing numbers of homeless individuals that seek shelter in transit stations and ride public transit, especially during off-peak hours.
Homelessness is particularly problematic. Numbers are so large that they affect all social and economic sectors. Although BART finances are precarious, the agency can no longer focus on delivering effective transportation riders would be pleased to use. BART is now expected to divert resources away from transportation and toward dealing with homeless – and often mentally and emotionally impaired – individuals in stations and trains.
California officials fondly envision the death of the personal vehicle and the birth of a regional transit network serving Bay Area residents. At present, such vision falls under the category of cognitive dissonance.