Work­ers fear BART cuts

Trains nearly empty in pan­demic, but many rid­ers have no al­ter­na­tive

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Mal­lory Moench

With­out BART, Kamyah Moses takes three buses and 45 min­utes longer to get from her home in Oak­land’s Fruit­vale neigh­bor­hood to her job as a froster at Noth­ing Bundt

Cakes in Emeryville. One day, five buses passed be­cause they were al­ready too full un­der COVID19 re­stric­tions, she said.

If BART, los­ing a ma­jor­ity of rid­ers and rev­enue un­der the pan­demic, has to cut back ser­vice, it would af­fect “everything,” said the 17yearold, who doesn’t have a car.

“I just re­ally hope they don’t do it,” she said as she shook her head on the Fruit­vale Sta­tion plat­form Fri­day af­ter­noon.

BART has al­ready re­duced its hours and in­creased wait times be­tween trains. Now the agency, which doesn’t have enough money to cover its bud­get, is con­sid­er­ing more ser­vice cuts for Fe­bru­ary. The worstcase sce­nar­ios, which the agency’s lead­er­ship is try­ing to avoid, could in­clude clos­ing se­lect sta­tions and end­ing week­end trains.

The pan­demic nearly emp­tied BART, leav­ing only 13% of rid­ers, and ex­pos­ing who truly de­pends on pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Those left are largely es­sen­tial work­ers and peo­ple with­out cars, who most of­ten are low­in­come. They con­tinue to be hurt by sched­ule cuts, al­though trains are less crowded.

Even as the sys­tem has been drained of whitecol­lar com­muters un­der shel­ter­in­place, some sta­tions still busEssen­tial

tle. Fruit­vale is now the fifth busiest af­ter San Fran­cisco’s Pow­ell, Mont­gomery, Civic Cen­ter and 16th Street Mis­sion. The East Bay sta­tion recorded 47,577 to­tal en­tries and 47,485 to­tal ex­its in Septem­ber. While down­town San Fran­cisco sta­tions run only 5% of prepan­demic rid­er­ship, Fruit­vale has kept up to 25%.

“Es­sen­tial work­ers are stream­ing through those fare gates ev­ery day,” said BART Di­rec­tor Robert Raburn, who rep­re­sents the sta­tion. “We’re do­ing everything we can to pro­tect them and pro­vide good ser­vice.”

BART lead­ers have op­posed any sce­nario that would strand tran­sit­de­pen­dent rid­ers over the week­end or at a cer­tain sta­tion, in­stead propos­ing re­duc­ing fre­quency of week­end trains or ex­pand­ing wait times to 45 min­utes to avoid hard cuts.

Two dozen rid­ers, in­clud­ing a woman sit­ting on a suit­case, a mom with her young daugh­ter and work­ers dressed in branded shirts, waited on the Fruit­vale Sta­tion plat­form Fri­day af­ter­noon. Some peo­ple said they go ev­ery day to work, while oth­ers use BART only to visit a friend when Uber is too ex­pen­sive or their car is in the shop. Rid­ers had mixed re­views of ser­vice and safety dur­ing the pan­demic. Some said it was bet­ter be­cause there were fewer rid­ers, while oth­ers com­plained wait times be­tween trains had dou­bled from 15 to 30 min­utes and ser­vice started later and ended ear­lier.

Jacky Huynh, 20, takes the train to work at Star­bucks in San Fran­cisco four days a week, even though he has a car, to avoid traf­fic and park­ing. If he opens the cof­fee shop in the morn­ing, he now has to drive and then take an Uber, be­cause BART doesn’t start un­til later.

“I rely on the BART to get to and from work,” he said.

Odalys Nunez, 24, said she’s been tak­ing BART to work in Wal­nut Creek since May when her car was struck and has planned her work sched­ule around the train.

“Cut­ting the trains would put a re­ally big stamp on the rid­ers be­ing able to get to work on time,” she said. “There are a lot of peo­ple who don’t have cars or any other means of trans­porta­tion, and BART is their only trans­porta­tion.”

Tem­po­rary clo­sures for sta­tions with fewer than 500 daily rid­ers or within walk­ing dis­tance of another sta­tion are one pos­si­ble sce­nario. Ethan El­lis, who works as a com­mu­nity plant­ing co­or­di­na­tor in ur­ban forestry, doesn’t own a car and com­mutes from Pleas­ant Hill to the Ber­ryessa dis­trict of San Jose three days a week. He al­ready gets to work late on Satur­days be­cause BART starts later dur­ing the pan­demic. If lesstrav­eled sta­tions were closed, he fears Ber­ryessa would go, and he would ei­ther have to buy a car, which he can’t af­ford, or quit his job.

“I would have no way to get to work,” El­lis said. “I need the ser­vice, or I could be out of this job.”

Tran­sit ad­vo­cates say the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is a wakeup call for BART to repri­or­i­tize for the tran­sit­de­pen­dent.

“When we build ex­pan­sions around choice rid­ers, we see what hap­pens when the econ­omy changes,” said Bob Allen, pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy cam­paign di­rec­tor for the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Ur­ban Habi­tat. “We need to in­vest in the sys­tems for peo­ple who are the most loyal, re­li­able rid­ers.”

Faith­ful rid­ers deal­ing with pan­demic ser­vice changes also need to nav­i­gate health and safety con­cerns, in­clud­ing less rid­ers who fail to wear masks. In the last staff sur­vey count on Oct. 5, mask com­pli­ance was 91%. Com­pli­ance peaked to 95% dur­ing rush hours, but dropped in the mid­dle of the day. BART di­rec­tors said the num­bers aren’t good enough.

“We’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” BART spokes­woman Ali­cia Trost said. “We look at mask com­pli­ance very holis­ti­cally. We’re all in this to­gether. A BART com­po­nent is mak­ing sure ev­ery­one knows masks are re­quired and mak­ing sure ev­ery­one has ac­cess to free masks if needed.”

BART has pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments, posters and train de­cals to ed­u­cate rid­ers. Sta­tion agents, am­bas­sadors and po­lice of­fi­cers give masks to rid­ers who don’t have ones and en­gage in en­force­ment. Mostly that’s just a re­minder to wear a mask prop­erly, but if peo­ple bel­liger­ently refuse, they’re re­moved from the train, Trost said. Po­lice is­sued four ci­ta­tions to rid­ers not wear­ing masks since March.

On Fri­day at Fruit­vale, BART po­lice of­fi­cers on board stopped a woman from get­ting on with­out a mask. She buried her mouth and nose in her sweat­shirt, and they let her on. Some rid­ers said pretty much ev­ery­one wears masks, while oth­ers said it’s some­times a prob­lem.

“A lot of peo­ple come in wear­ing a mask and then take it off,” Nunez said. “I know it’s hard, but if this is the only way that’s go­ing to pro­tect us when we have to go to work, it has to be done and en­forced.”

El Cantey, 61, who rides the train ev­ery day, said he doesn’t feel like ev­ery­one re­spects mask rules, but car­ries ex­tra ones in his back­pack to give to home­less peo­ple who might not have them.

An­thony Towner, on his way to work in San Fran­cisco, said rid­ers “def­i­nitely fol­low the rules,” al­though there’s “still some crazy peo­ple.”

“Everything’s been fine,” he said as he pulled a sur­gi­cal mask over his face and hopped aboard the train.

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