Why can't BART scale?

Why can't BART scale?

In its design phase in the 1960s, BART was cutting edge technology, however since then it has not substantially changed…our BART technology is older than the internet.

The fact that the system hasn't changed much in over 50 years points to a failure to adapt. It certainly isn't because people don't want a better system. We need to understand why we have such system and elect leaders to implement solutions.

Nixion rides BART.

Nixon riding BART in 1972 (source: SFGate)

Why don't more people ride BART?

People choose between different transit options by weighing several factors. BART is not a viable option for the majority of people in the Bay Area.

  • Cost Riding BART everyday is comparable to owning a used car without the flexibility. It’s no wonder the Bay Area has more cars per capita than Los Angeles.

  • Speed Point to point speed is what matters to customers, not average or max train speed. Point to point speed for most riders is around 20 miles per hour (slower than a galloping horse).

  • Comfort BART is often dirty, hot and generally uncomfortable when compared to a private car. This makes people avoid riding it.

  • Availability There are very few BART stations. Only a small fraction of the Bay Area population can walk to stations from their home.

  • Reliability BART trains are inherently unreliable because trains are unable to pass each other. One failure could lead to delays for thousands of people. ​

Why can’t today’s BART get better? BART has systemic problems that make it difficult to change. The organization has no motivation to change and the rail technology is limiting. The combination of these missing incentives and structural complexity make innovation nearly impossible. .

  • No Competition BART trains are the monopoly on their own right-of-way (train tracks). Monopolies stifle innovation by removing the pressures to get better. This means that even after 50 years service, there is still the same one service available.

  • Legacy Rail Systems BART is stuck using custom legacy systems. Maintenance is expensive and experts are very hard to find.

  • Centrally Controlled All BART trains are controlled by a centralized system so any proposed change has to go through the approval gauntlet. Any failure in the central system means the whole system will stop.

  • Leadership BART leadership is planning to maintain the current system at a tremendous cost without significantly improving the service.