These are high times for those who love to complain about BART.

In February, it came to light that a large percentage of BART's rail car security cameras were either inoperable or fakes. In March, it was learned that all BART employees received $1,000 -- a "secret" bonus according to state Sen. Steve Glazer, a strident BART critic -- tied to ridership numbers.

Three weeks ago, power surges on the tracks between the Pittsburg-Bay Point and North Concord stations knocked scores of rail cars out of commission, necessitating bus and shuttle train "bridges" for commuters -- a workaround that still was in effect Monday.

"I don't think this has been our finest hour," BART director Joel Keller said.

A BART patron awaits a train in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
A BART patron awaits a train in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

It was while awaiting a shuttle train Thursday morning that James Pervoe, his shoulders hunched against a bitter Delta wind, was asked about the contemporary BART experience.

"It's been difficult," said Pervoe, an Oakley resident who for more than a year has been taking BART into San Francisco, where he works as a concierge at the Nema Building. "But it's getting better."

So he has faith in BART management to diagnose and fix the problem?

"Ah ... yes," he said, smiling. "I think so. Yes."

Glazer, based on feedback from constituents, is not so optimistic.

"I hear that it has gotten worse," he said. "Trains are more crowded. Stations more dirty. Station agents less than helpful. Parking rates going up. Fares going up. Fake security cameras. Breakdowns. Delays."


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All the while BART, which reports a $9 billion capital deficit, has been preparing a bond measure for the November ballot that will ask taxpayers to cough up $3.5 billion to replace infrastructure that, according to a tweet from the agency's suddenly-expressive Twitter account, "has reached the end of its useful life."

All of the above has provoked response from those who don't come close to the grudging benefit of the doubt that Pervoe gives BART management. Critics dredge up the acrimony and apocalyptic commutes caused by the 2013 strike. They find bitter irony in BART's deficit and the fact its workers are the highest-paid public employees in the state, according to Glazer.

"I share that concern," Keller said when asked if he thinks riders have lost trust in the agency. "This period of events has taken its toll on the positive view the public has of us."

Back to Thursday's commute. The "bridge" worked wonderfully on Pervoe's morning ride. The three dozen or so riders on the shuttle train strode across the platform in North Concord and into a waiting San Francisco-bound train as convenient as you please.

A man stands on the platform at the Rockridge station as BART patrons crowd a San Francisco-bound train car in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 31,
A man stands on the platform at the Rockridge station as BART patrons crowd a San Francisco-bound train car in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

It was then that things went all to hell. From the train's driver, speaking over an audio system on which only random fragments of conversation can be understood, passengers heard:

"Accident on freeway ... car on tracks ... very, very, major delays in all directions ... "

A police chase in Walnut Creek had resulted in a suspect's vehicle crashing through a fence and onto the BART right of way. The train inched its way to the Concord station, where it was held for 15 minutes.

Pervoe didn't appear overly concerned. BART, he said, beats the alternative.

"I've tried driving," he said, "but it's very difficult. I never get to work on time."

A few feet away, Jessie Molina, who boarded the train at the Concord station, was likewise unruffled.

"BART's great," said Molina, who commutes five days a week to his job at a San Francisco hotel. "The past 2½ weeks, it's been track issues and that kind of stuff, but for the most part it's cool. Driving costs $50. You've got to pay for parking, $30."

What is your ultimate BART horror story? Molina was asked.

"This is it right here," he said with a smile.

Ironically, the huge inconvenience shone a light on some of the good work BART does. By the time the train belatedly reached Pleasant Hill, passengers crammed the platform as if awaiting the start of the Oklahoma land rush. Only a fraction could wedge inside. But the station's public address system advised that two San Francisco-bound trains were on their way.

By the time the train got to Rockridge, it was up to its phony cameras with commuters. Bingo! An eastbound train pulled into the station. Acting as a lifeboat, it relieved the delayed train of half its passengers and returned to San Francisco. The one-way trip to the Embarcadero for the delayed train took 97 minutes.

The return trip took 45 minutes, which included a 13-minute layover in North Concord waiting for the shuttle train "bridge."

"That can be the difference between getting your kid out of child care before it closes," Glazer said.

BART is not without its friends. On Thursday, the East Bay Leadership Council endorsed a bond measure.

"Whether you believe the system has been mismanaged or not," the statement read in part, "we all benefit from a system that eases commutes, connects people to jobs ... and helps keep our air clean."

"This is our reality," it read, echoing one of BART's favorite refrains.

Only because the agency didn't save money to replace aging infrastructure, according to Glazer.

"They haven't saved for a rainy day," he said. "They say out of one pocket they have money for exorbitant raises for their workers and managers, and the other pocket they say it's empty, and we need to go to the taxpayers."

Asked when normal service will be restored between Pittsburg-Bay Point and North Concord, and when functioning security cameras (price tag: $1.45 million) will be installed, Keller was circumspect.

Diagnostics on the electrical surges are ongoing, he said. As for the cameras?

"Riders have always believed there were live cameras," he said. "Now it's widely known that there are more fake than real. We have to fix that, the sooner the better."

Finally: Something BART and its critics can agree on.

Do you have a column topic for Gary? Contact him at 925-952-5053 or gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.