For those of you who aren’t Bay Area residents or transportation news nerds, BART workers are on strike and have been since Monday. Bay Area Rapid Transit is the largest of this region’s regional train services. Imagine if New York’s Metro North workers went on strike? Or Chicago’s Metra?
Most news outlets are focused on what happens to BART’s 400,000 riders throughout the East and South Bay, as well as within San Francisco. There’s been a lot of talk of longer than normal commute times as people try to sort out how to get to work via numerous combinations of bus, carpool, and ferry (with lots of walking and queuing in between!). So far the longest commute I’ve heard is the 5 hours it took my studio mate to travel from Oakland to the Mission. 5 hours! This is a trip that typically takes 20 minutes by car or 45-50 minutes by transit.
Even though I make jewelry now, I’m still working in the transportation world so several people have asked my opinion on the strike. Sorry, I don’t have one to share. There are just too many nuances that I don’t feel it’s right for me to speak on it. I’m also not going to rattle off a bunch of numbers–you can get those from various news outlets. I have been very concerned, however, about more than just the 400,000 people directly displaced. I’ve been thinking about the operational impacts on our other systems, and the broader impacts–not to mention the $73 million it’s costing the region.
Instead, I figured I’d relate a few personal observations. Why? Because I don’t quite have a woeful story of commuting. I fared far better than most of my 9-5 friends. I exercised my flexible schedule and avoided the commute hours as much as possible. Even still, I had an extended commute and met up with folks on the tail end of the morning rush–even though I was traveling at almost 11am. I met up with a friend who had waited for a bus in his neighborhood only to be passed up several times because they were all full. He walked to another stop in a different neighborhood to catch a bus. His door-to-door commute time? 3 hours.
The extended commute times are obviously to be expected. I was surprised, however, to note the following about the strike though:
- major news media have focused on other routes for BART’s 400,000 passengers, with little discussion of the impacts on the transit system as a whole, namely Muni and ACTransit riders.
- there has been superficial discourse of the need for more investment in transit infrastructure and operations, which, in my humble opinion, is high among reasons for the stalemate (along with other factors, of course)
- the hubris of some organizations/special interest groups, which some have framed as as highlighting the division between the haves and have-nots
- the way people have treated other travelers has truly run the gamut, some of it staggeringly cruel or inconsiderate.
Perhaps the most striking observation on this last point is the impact that strike conditions has had on disabled travelers. In a typical month in San Francisco I might travel on a bus with a wheelchair passenger about once. Yup, that’s a max of one in an entire month. Yesterday, I took the bus twice between Downtown and the Mission district. Each time there were two wheelchair passengers. Each time there was groaning and annoyance when the driver or passenger called out for a stop.
I understand why people were irritated; it took 50 minutes to travel about 25 blocks. I could have (and probably should have) walked the 3 miles in about as much time. So I get it. But disabled people have to get around too, and grumbling or outright yelling at the driver or passenger isn’t doing anything to help anyone. So what, the ramp must be deployed. So what, it takes time to rearrange the seats. Everyone has to get somewhere. It’s a difficult time for everyone, and perhaps more so for disabled passengers. There was even a point when one passenger grumbled because he had to get up in order to raise a seat banquette to accommodate the wheelchair. He relied on a cane and demanded help to move, angrily. Now where’s the sense in getting angry with someone who has few other choices? Once again, I wondered whether we have discarded common courtesy entirely.
And then the time came for my return trip home. Just as I did in the morning, I waited until the worst of the crowds had passed. Shortly after 8pm I figured it would be safe to head out. I braced myself for a long, sad trip home. And… it wasn’t quite so sad. As I waited for my first bus someone passed by to offer rides to anyone headed in the same direction. At the Transbay Terminal, an ACTransit worker searched for a Chinese speaker to make sure a late night traveler had properly understood his directions, not just for tonight but also for his trip the next morning. The driver on the second bus let people board even if they didn’t have change for the bus, either because he didn’t want to wait for people fumbling or realized that some people wouldn’t have the appropriate smart cards or just to put a nice spin on an otherwise crappy trip.
All told my return trip took twice as long as it would have had I been able to take BART. But it could have been worse. And in the end, it was a note on just how much the BART strike has served to highlight the highs and lows of life in the Bay.