I was fortunate enough (heavy in sarcasm) to be one of the thousands of commuters stuck on a BART train on Monday night heading home from work. And while it never got me too upset, it raises a number of questions about the transit agency.
The delay started rather innocently. As my train was traveling to the Union City station, it stopped in the middle of the tracks. The operator came on the PA system and announced that there was a computer circuit problem and to expect a minimal delay.
I really thought nothing of it as I was immersed in some writing and music. Periodically, there would be announcements with the same message that there was a problem with the central control system and that it was systemwide. So we all waited…and waited…and waited some more.
Pretty soon, 15 minutes became an hour, with very little in the way of updates. Finally, we were told we were going to move backwards to the South Hayward station. The operator said they were trying to move trains back to stations so that people could off-board if needed.
Most of the train got off at that station, I suppose making other plans to get home or to get to their car at Fremont or Union City. I waited it out and finally, the train slowly trudged along and stopped at Union City. But before departing for Fremont, “our friendly operator” got on the horn again and said there would be another delay because there were too many trains already at the Fremont station. I couldn’t wait any longer and three fellow passengers and I decided to take a cab to Fremont. Four hours later, I was home sweet home.
After thinking about it, I really had no issue with the delay. For a transit system that relies so heavily on technology, that kind of thing is going to happen. But it does worry me that a) it took so long to either figure out or fix the problem and b) there is still no explanation what went wrong. The communication was awful. Our operator was completely useless, couldn’t answer any questions about the delay, possible bus service or ease the concerns of passengers. I found out later that BART officials advised people to make alternative plans to get to their destination. You would have thought they would have told that to operators so we the passengers could call someone for a ride. This also brings into question what would happen if a disaster strikes the Bay Area. How would BART be able to handle that type of situation when it takes them two hours to figure out a problem with routers?
Overall, I have always been fairly pleased with BART and its on-time performance and reliability. It’s part of the reason I take it to commute to San Francisco. But instead of worrying about new seats, maybe officials can take the time to get a more reliable plan in place to fix situations like the one that occurred on Monday night so it doesn’t happen again.
Photo Credit: Alex Cheek, via Wikimedia Commons