Why BART isn’t an all-day affair – and what might life be like if it were?
By Joe Eskenazi
Paul Stanard levels his glasses and then he levels a perfect pour of Delirium Tremens in a spiffy little flagon. I ask the bartender at Toronado if he ever notices a bigger crowd on the nights when BART runs for 24 hours – as it will over Labor Day Weekend.
He glances around the joint, which is already as full as a Japanese subway, and answers truthfully, that he doesn’t. But he isn’t finished.
“I think,” he says over the din, “That 24-hour BART is a [rather] brilliant idea! It’s ridiculous they close when they do. They encourage people to drink and drive.”
That’s a common refrain. And, whenever BART decides to go Jack Bauer on us with the 24-hour service, so is the sentiment that it always ought to be this way – and BART is shining us by not making it so.
Not so fast, says Linton Johnson. The BART spokesman says the few hours a night the system takes off are necessary to fix things before they break. Since the trains will run from 1 a.m. on Friday Aug. 31 until 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4, he predicts lateness and delays for the entire next week as BART scrambles to make up its maintenance schedule. Breaking into a ...
speech he’s obviously made before, he notes that BART runs for more hours of the day than mass-transit in London, Paris or Washington, D.C. (he left out a City of note, but we’ll get to that in a moment).
BART’s stretch run on Labor Day weekend won’t come cheap. The system will need a whole extra shift of police, drivers and station personnel – not to mention the cleanup crew, who will be on call every hour of the day. Johnson says 24-hour service usually runs an extra $250,000 for a weekend (this time it’ll be on the State’s dime).
He dodged the question, however, when asked whose bright idea it was to put carpeting and stuffed fuzzy chairs on a mass transit system. Instead, he said explosively sloshed patrons may be asked to exit the train before they puke.
The combination of tipsy passengers and the aforementioned train décor is an evil one. Yet, as the Toronado’s Stanard observed, most people avoid deliberately binging on nights with endless BART. Across the street from Stanard’s place of business, Steve Pritchard of Mad Dog in the Fog predicted a big crowd for a holiday weekend, but didn’t think BART service would have much to do with it. We received similar answers from a handful of other bars around the City from the Bay to Ocean Beach.
Holiday weekends are synonymous with DUI crackdowns, and data obtained from the California Highway Patrol says all-night BART has a indeterminate effect in the problem. On the nine days last year when BART ran all night or all City public transportation was free, there were 22 alcohol-related collisions in San Francisco county resulting in nine injuries – and no deaths. Those aren’t particularly high totals for a nine-day stretch, but there’s certainly no dramatic dip.
Yet in situations where city dwellers habitually expect and rely upon effective, 24-hour public transportation there is a dramatic dip in DUIs.
London, Paris and D.C. don’t have continual public transportation service, but New York City does. In 2001, police arrested 1,754 drunk-drivers in San Francisco versus 5,030 in New York; a city with 10 times the population.
Confounding factors murk the Five Boroughs’ proportionately lower DUI total, but free Muni partisans should add these stats to their arsenal.
“I think Muni should always be free,” notes Stanard, changing a crisp new $5 bill.
“But, then again, I’m a Communist.”