Last weekend, fueled by travelers heading to San Francisco's Pride Parade, BART posted its highest Sunday ridership with 195,700. On June 13, the system set its weekday record with
381,200 passengers counted swiping their farecards to enter the rapid transit network.
On Monday, the system reached 100,128,800 rides. The previous record of 97 million rides was set in fiscal year 2001, at the peak of the dot-com employment boom.
The trend was noticed earlier this year, explained BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
"We were seeing increases far beyond what we initially anticipated," Johnson said, and then the Bay Area's transportation network, BART in particular, faced a major unscheduled test of its versatility.
On April 29, a gasoline tanker truck crashed in the middle of the MacArthur Maze freeway interchange next to Emeryville, bursting into flames and collapsing a ramp that feeds traffic coming off of the Bay Bridge onto eastbound I-580.
That event forced BART, and more significantly, commuters from the Oakland Hills and central Contra Costa County, to adjust their normal routines to make up for the freeway system's temporary disability.
What followed was BART's biggest week ever: 2.1 million rides from April 30 to May 6. Ridership tapered off, but remained much higher than normal until the melted ramp was replaced 25 days later. Even after the maze was fixed, ridership remained high, encouraging BART officials to credit the maze mishap, along with high gas prices, with getting more commuters to BART.
"The cost of commuting is going up and the convenience of driving on the freeways is going down," Johnson said. "People are thinking to themselves, 'I can drive, but it's easier and inexpensive to take BART.'"
Now that the system is setting regular ridership records, officials are contemplating how to accommodate the extra riders.
"While 350,000 riders is certainly sustainable in the short term, the equipment we're using, the rail cars, are 20 to 30 years old." Johnson said the system can probably handle another 100,000 daily rides above its current 348,000 average weekday count.
"A 10-car train can hold about 1,200 people," he said, "but 1,200 people on a 10-car train is not exactly a comfortable ride."