Bay Area Rapid Transit, “BART” Turns 50-Years-Old this Month

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(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
It was 50 years ago, on Sept. 11, 1972, when the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system welcomed its service to riders in the Bay Area. It’s estimated more than 15,000 people showed up to ride the first day.

    After 15 years of planning, eight years of construction and more than a billion dollars spent, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) opened for service Sept. 11, 1972. It’s estimated more than 15,000 people showed up to ride the first day. Only 18 two-and-three-car trains ran that day along the first 28-mile section of track from the MacArthur Station to Fremont. The first new regional transit system built in the U.S. in 65 years nailed its first trial. Celebrations were in order.
    At each station between Fremont and MacArthur, BART personnel hosted a ribbon cutting with dignitaries such as San Francisco Mayor Joe Alito and Oakland Vice Mayor Frank Ogawa. 
    The San Francisco Examiner proclaimed, “BART Passes Its First Rush Hour Test,” while a BART employee, Margie Benson, told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s just like Disneyland.”
    Shirley Fisk was quoted as saying to the Long Beach Press Telegram, “This is the end of the automobile for me.” Just 16 days after the system opened, President Richard Nixon visited the Bay Area to “marvel at the future of transportation,” according to the Nixon Foundation. 
    Michael Healy, BART historian and former employee, said, “We had journalists from all over the world, close to 7,000 of them, in attendance. Most Bay Area residents and the world from the outside were thrilled by BART. It’s the Space Age transit system and everyone is excited.” 
    With the 50th Anniversary of BART, the public is invited to help celebrate Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Lake Merritt Station. The 50th Birthday Party and Family Fun Festival is free to the public, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will include food trucks, music, games, prizes and a time capsule opening.
    In additional celebrations, BART riders are encouraged to return to the system with a month-long 50% discount incentive this month and riders using Clipper receive half off all published BART fares as well. It also includes 50% off already discounted fares for youth, senior, Regional Transportation Connection, Clipper Start and Gator Pass riders. Learn more about BART’s anniversary at bart.gov/50years.
    In pre-pandemic 2018, each workday BART’s ridership averaged 414,166 trips. During peak commute hours, nearly 25,600 people rode through the Transbay Tube into downtown San Francisco. The busiest BART stations, Embarcadero and Montgomery, had more than 93,000 exits occurring at these two stations on an average weekday. The top ridership day was 493,927 trips on June 12, 2018, for the Warriors Victory Parade.
    As the Bay Area’s population swells, BART is tackling the challenge to keep the Bay Area moving. Aging trains (more than two-thirds of BART’s train cars are from 1972) are being replaced.  
    BART’s workforce is rebuilding the infrastructure, modernizing stations, replacing track, power cables and substations. BART has spent $164.3 million (through Dec. 2018) of voter-approved Measure RR funds and the independent Bond Oversight Committee said in its Annual Report projects are “on time and on budget.”  
    BART’s board of directors stated, “In 2019, we expanded our Measure RR efforts and laid the foundation to increase frequency and capacity. We’ve received bidder proposals to upgrade BART’s train control system, begun to study a second Transbay Rail Crossing and launched a major earthquake retrofit to the Transbay Tube.”
    In July 2019, BART Board of Directors unanimously appointed Robert “Bob” Powers to take over as BART’s tenth General Manager. Powers, a professional engineer, has more than 20 years of experience in the public transportation industry, overseeing major infrastructure projects and transportation programs. He had been serving as Interim General Manager.
    Healy, the Director of Public Affairs at the time of BART’s opening, remembers the Sept. 11th of 1972 as “an incredible day. We celebrate it 50 years later.”

Bobbie Dodson can be reached at bobbiedodson109@gmail.com.

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