Will high Bay Area gas prices help public transit rebound? BART hopes so

ByRyan Curry KGO logo
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
BART hoping high gas prices drives a return of riders
Not everyone is upset about the Bay Area's record-setting gas prices. Some are hoping that it will actually push more people to ride public transit.

ORINDA, Calif. (KGO) -- BART is hoping that California's record-setting gas prices will push more riders back to the Bay Area's largest transit agency.

"Gas prices are through the roof and the bridge toll went up as well," said Alicia Trost, Communications Officer BART. "Driving has never been more expensive. BART is still here. If ridership increases, we can use that money to invest our system and serve the community."

In a weird way, Bay Area gas prices well over $5 a gallon couldn't come at a better time for BART.

Less than a month ago, the board of directors was discussing a "crisis mode" strategy to deal with abysmal ridership numbers.

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California hit another record for the average price of regular unleaded gas this weekend, at $5.28 a gallon as of Sunday.

BART ridership is still 30% of what it was before the pandemic and the board of directors projected it may take until 2027 for the agency to regain 70 percent of its ridership.

"We welcome any riders either haven't been with us before or are returning," Trost said. "Not only for commuters but for leisure and weekend riders as well."

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BART leaders held a TP ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completely renovated restrooms at the Powell Street Station in San Francisco.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, ridership across all Bay Area transit agencies is going up. They say it started once the Omicron surge passed, but now with the gas pricing issue, they think it will only increase.

"If it is sustained for a period of time, then I think people will look for alternatives," said John Goodwin, Public Information Officer for MTC. "There are plenty of alternatives out there. If not public transit, maybe it will even lead to the return of casual carpool."

He says it may take a few years before public transit stops look like what they were before COVID-19. However, he says it is possible that type of transit environment returns.

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The average price for gas in the Bay Area is almost at $5 a gallon. The ongoing war in Ukraine is causing prices at the pump to rise at fast rates.

"It is hard to predict what will happen, but we could see things change even in the next few months," Goodwin said. "It may be a year or more before things settle down and a new normal is established."

While BART is excited for the potential boost in ridership, the riders we talked to said they've enjoyed the lack of crowding.

"I like it, but I think it will change," said Anna Maria, a BART rider who takes it to go from work to school. "It has been nice getting a seat, boarding a train and have it not be crowded and eventually not missing my bus."