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BART speed

For a high-speed rail, the system really slogs. On a commute from North Berkeley to the SF Financial District, during prime commute hours, it can often be faster to take AC Transit than to take BART. So a bus, which makes more stops, and travels on surface streets and then congested I-80, is faster.

A trip from North Berkeley BART to the Fremont BART station, 34.5 miles by car, 29.7 by BART, is 43 minutes by car, and 51 minutes by BART!!! How does this qualify as a high speed rail? What gives???

I emailed BART a few years ago to ask about the speed. I asked why BART moves so incredibly slowly through the west Oakland area. (I would sit and watch as cars on even surface streets passed the train). She said that there must have been some problem at a station. I replied that not only was there no announcement of any delays, this was the norm on the ride between SF and Oakland. I got further explanation.

I wonder, is the system getting slower, or has it always been this slow? What a bill of goods the citizens of the Bay area bought: the high cost of high-speed-rail for the slow speed of light rail.

Is there anything BART can do to remedy this problem? There are all sorts of plans to help deal with the growing number of commuters; it seems to me that the most efficient thing that could be done is to have the trains go faster so that many more people can be served by exactly the same number of (BART) cars and operators.

thank you for your attention.


First of all, BART is not a

First of all, BART is not a high speed rail system. It's more like a hybrid between a subway and suburban rail system.

Second of all, BART trains have to stop once at a while at a station while cars and buses once their on the freeway are only slowed down by traffic, which is only really bad during the peak of rush hour. For the trip that you referenced, North Berkeley to Fremont, the train heading to Fremont has to wait at MacArthur for the train heading to San Francisco to pass first.

For example, if the San Francisco train from Pittsburg Bay Point is late for 10 minutes at MacArthur, the Fremont train has to wait those 10 minutes plus a few before being cleared to depart.

The point of BART is to be cheeper than paying gas, parking, and bridge tolls and to make it more attractive than driving because you don't have to hit your head on the steering wheel as your stuck in traffic and you realize your late to your job in the Financial district.

Let's do a true

Let's do a true apples-to-apples comparison. From North Berkeley to Fremont (I'm using the area around the BART stations for comparison), Google estimates that the drive will take 49 minutes in no traffic, and 1 hr and 10 minutes in traffic. The BART ride will take 51 minutes. Meanwhile, using the AAA estimate of $0.55 per mile, the 34 mile car trip will cost $18.70, while the BART trip will cost $4.35.

Regarding getting from Berkeley to FiDi, I don't know how you figure that the bus can be faster than BART on the I-80 during rush hour. I drive, bus, and BART that route frequently, and I've found that BART to Montgomery is generally about 30 minutes including station waiting, while using when the AC F line, it takes me about an hour from Berkeley to the Transbay Terminal. The G, with fewer street stops than the F, is scheduled to take a little longer than a half hour. Meanwhile, even in good traffic conditions, driving takes me at least as long as BART. Not bad considering the BART route is actually longer in distance than an equivalent drive.

If we're talking about rail speed, consider that the regularly scheduled light rail N line goes from Ocean Beach to Embarcadero, a distance of approximately eight miles, in 41 minutes during rush hour. That drive, not including parking, takes at least 25 minutes, by contrast. On the westbound approach to West Oakland station from downtown Oakland, BART must travel slowly through the wye before emerging from the tunnel. The elevated approach is generally limited to 36 mph I believe. Beyond West Oakland, the train rapidly accelerates to 70 mph, faster than the 880 traffic below. Eastbound past the West Oakland station, BART again must slow for the wye when it nears the tunnel. The point is that BART is on average far faster than light rail.

Really? I didn't know BART

Really? I didn't know BART trains go through the Transbay Tube at 70 mph? I thought they go at like 60 or something.

They typically range from

They typically range from about 60 to 70, depending on system conditions. The maximum allowed speed through much of the tunnel is 80, but trains rarely reach that.

Return ATO's picture

Depending on the location in

Depending on the location in the system the speed codes for that section(s) or rail will vary. Some of the faster rail sections are on the C Line. The same can be said for the Transbay Tube and Berkeley Hills Tunnel. Conversely, there are other sections of the system that require a train to reduce its speed on the approach. The Oakland Wye (area between 12th St., West Oakland and Lake Merritt) is one of those areas. It has nothing to do with the number of trains through that area, although it can be said during rush hour any minor delay will create a backup through this area and trains will be slower than normal (normal meaning the system running on-time).

If you follow the news then you have read about the incidents this year in this area. There was a collision at 12th St and a second train that derailed, both in similar locations. The rail sections through this downtown area have some very tight turns. Trains need to be slowed down. Some can claim it was a design flaw in the original planning, but being safety conscience is always a priority. Your example out of West Oakland, the train will slow considerable, maybe to 25 mph a bit out of the station and remain that way until on the approach to either 12th St. or Lake Merritt.

bartarded's picture

$0.55/mile? $18.70 to go from


$18.70 to go from Berkeley to SF?

That is a load of horse shit.

That cost is from North

That cost is from North Berkeley to Fremont. And yes, you're right, I underestimated.

AAA places the national average cost per mile at 56.6 cents, and Google estimates that the trip costs $19.95.

AAA cost per mile
Google Maps North Berkeley to Fremont

bartarded's picture

still a load of crap. assumes

still a load of crap.
assumes you're paying for AAA's insanely overpriced insurance.

insurance on my beater is about $350/year and it gets 30mpg no problem.

my cost of driving is way, way less than that.


About estimated driving costs

The cost of driving is based on the distance driving between your start and end addresses, multiplied by the standard cost per mile that tax regulations allow businesses to deduct. However, this number is only an estimate and doesn't consider tolls, parking fees, or variations in gas mileage for different types of cars.

Cost of driving is currently available for US cities only. The cost of driving estimate is presented next to the cost of the transit trip for comparison purposes only. These calculations are based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. Runzheimer International, an independent contractor, conducted the study for the IRS.

icrew's picture

You can calculate your real

You can calculate your real cost per mile (factoring in MPG, insurance costs, etc.) at:

bartarded's picture

just tried and it won't work

just tried and it won't work for me.
guess it isn't made to work for people who have cars that are 100% paid off, require no maintenance, and have high gas mileage.

EDIT: just did it for a brand new car i'm thinking about buying. if i bought the car outright (financing is for suckers) cost per mile is 24¢. unless you drive a route with tolls, that's cheaper than BART.

boopiejones's picture

what kind of car are you

what kind of car are you talking about and how is 24 cents/mile cheaper than bart?

the initial example given, north berkeley to fremont, is about 35 miles. That is nearly $9 each way using your 24 cents/mile example. the bart ticket only costs $4.10... so the car is more than 2x as expensive.

bartarded's picture

i was looking @ berkeley to

i was looking @ berkeley to embarcadero which is where most people actually go for work

@ 24¢ per mile it's $2.76 one way versus $3.70 for BART

If you're driving any

If you're driving any distance at all, I think the cost of wear&tear and servicing will eclipse
the .24 figure pretty quickly. 30K service is $300+ for practically any vehicle these days....

boopiejones's picture

you're right. i checked that

you're right. i checked that calculator and the only way to get the cost per mile down to 24 cents is a car that is brand new, less than $20,000, gets 55 miles per gallon, has no maintenance costs, no financing and annual insurance of under $300. basically, it's impossible.

bartarded's picture

tons of cars under $20k that

tons of cars under $20k that get 30+ mpg with little-to-no required maintenance & cheap catastrophic coverage.

and financing is for suckers. i'd rather pay cash and own my car for the list price than finance for a more expensive one and pay twice the sticker price.

boopiejones's picture

i don't disagree with that.

i don't disagree with that. but those cars cost 30 cents/mile (or more) to operate. that is A LOT more expensive than bart. even the mythical 24 cents/mile car is more than double the cost of bart...

bartarded's picture

i was looking @ berkeley to

i was looking @ berkeley to embarcadero which is where most people actually go for work

@ 24¢ per mile it's $2.76 one way versus $3.70 for BART

last time i checked $2.76 is less than $3.70

boopiejones's picture

last time i checked, there

last time i checked, there was a bridge between berkeley and embarcadero, so add $4 to your total. now your mythical .24 cents car costs $4.76 each way which, again, last time i checked is more than $3.70. and don't even get me started on parking fees in SF...

bartarded's picture

but if you already have a car

but if you already have a car and it's sitting in your garage then that is also costing you money so your bart fare isn't really just $3.70 if you factor that in.

bart is only cheaper than driving if you don't have a car at all.

boopiejones's picture

"bart is only cheaper than

"bart is only cheaper than driving if you don't have a car at all."

now you're just being silly. it is free to park my car in my garage at home. $1 to park it at bart all day. if you can tell me where i can find parking in SF for $1/day within a reasonable walk from the financial district then i'll eat my words. actually, bart would STILL be cheaper, because CARS HAVE TO PAY BRIDGE TOLL!!!!!!!!!!!

bartarded's picture

uh.... part of the cost per

uh.... part of the cost per mile includes cost to have vehicle insured and registered, silly!
if you leave your car at home you are still paying that cost but not getting anything out of it, so the fewer miles you drive the more it costs you per mile for insurance and registration!


boopiejones's picture

show me the math that proves

show me the math that proves a car sitting in a garage makes bart more expensive.

while you are at it, you might as well amortize the cost of any and all potential forms of transportation sitting in your house and tack those on to the cost of a bart ticket - any bikes, rollerblades, go carts, wheelbarrows, walking shoes, etc. and don't forget that if you didn't live in a house in the east bay and instead lived in a cardboard box near a bart station - amortize the value of your home as well. OMG! bart costs $2,267.50 each way!!!

bartarded's picture

if you can't figure that out

if you can't figure that out for your ownself there is no way i can help you. sorry!
sometimes logic is too simple to be explained, like 1 + 1 = 2.

boopiejones's picture

you have to buy auto

you have to buy auto insurance regardless of whether or not you take bart, and your car is needed for other things. furthermore, the annual cost of your insurance isn't going to be any different if you take bart or not...

by your logic, i am really making a lot lower salary than i think i am, because i am paying for monthly TV, phone and internet access for my house as well as my mortgage and home insurance, but cannot use any of these things during the 8 hours/day when i am at work.

also, using the inverse of your logic, bart suddenly becomes cheaper if i hop in my car and drive around the block for 50 needless miles every evening because the insurance costs are suddenly spread over more miles...

bartarded's picture

wow you don't get it at

wow you don't get it at all?

some of the cost of owning a car only gets added to bart, because you are paying for the car but using a different mode of transportation. that makes your per-mile cost for other trips in your car more expensive. you're both paying for bart and paying to have a car sitting at home doing nothing.

it doesn't work the other way around. i know you are just arguing to argue but you're sounding dumb now.

plus don't forget bart also takes longer than driving a lot of the time. is your time worthless? that has to be factored in also.

boopiejones's picture

i'm just arguing to argue? i

i'm just arguing to argue? i asked you to show it to me mathematically, and you ignored the question. actually, your response was 1+1=2. show me the math.

there are certain things with vehicles that are fixed costs. they can't be changed. insurance is one of them. gas is not. maintenance is not. regardless of whether i keep my car in the garage or drive the hell out of it, i still have to pay insurance. i think this is where you are getting the idea that insurance must be factored in to the cost of a bart ticket. but that is not true. say i stay home from work sick one day, or i take a 2 week vacation to the bahamas. do i have to go to the atm, take out cash equal to 2 weeks worth of my annual insurance and flush it down the toilet?

bartarded's picture

again you just don't get it.

again you just don't get it. i can't explain it to you, it's too simple.

boopiejones's picture

so simple... yet you'd rather

so simple... yet you'd rather argue about it with me for a whole week than just take a few minutes to type the simple explanation?

bartarded's picture

it's already been

it's already been explained.
the less you drive your car the most it costs per mile to drive it.
the more you drive your car the less it costs per mile to drive it.
by riding bart instead of driving you are raising the cost per mile for you to drive your car.
if you have the sense to take a holistic view of your finances then for people who own cars, that factors in to make bart somewhat more expensive for those who own cars than it does for those who do not.

if you need it explained better than that i guess you should talk to a financial advisor.

Nope, you're still

Nope, you're still incorrect.

Please do some reading on "sunk costs" and "marginal cost." Your "driving less = more cost per mile" analysis is flawed.

Here's the explanation - you own a car, it costs you $100/month for insurance and registration...REGARDLESS of how much you drive it. This amount does not change, and you've already "committed" to paying it (i.e., it's a sunk cost - at least in a short term analysis).

You'll pay that $100/month regardless of driving or taking BART. So it's *entirely irrelevant* to the decision at hand (i.e., to drive or take BART).

Now, to rationally decide between the two choices, you must look at the marginal cost - that is, how much extra $ will you have to spend to get to your destination. For BART, it's easy - just look at the cost of the ticket. For the car, you'll need to consider the fuel consumption and additional maintenance (you'll require some additional maintenance for each mile you drive) - there are some other costs we could look at, but that's the bulk of the marginal cost.

By the way, if you want a better explanation, don't talk to a CFA or a CFP (it's not their specialty) - talk to an accountant, especially one specializing in managerial accounting, since these analyses make up the bulk of their job. I should know, since it makes up the bulk of my work.

boopiejones's picture

thank you.

thank you.

bartarded's picture

and if you're riding bart

and if you're riding bart then you're wasting the "sunk cost" on your car and getting less out of that investment, genius

Clearly you ignored my

Clearly you ignored my recommendation to read up on sunk and marginal costs. The idea that one can "waste a sunk cost" demonstrates that you lack a basic understanding of economics and finance. Please read some books on the subject or take an introductory Econ class before you start "analyzing" the costs.

Your level of ignorance is astounding - although based on the mortgage fiasco this country recently faced, you can take solace in the fact that you're on par with the general public.

bartarded's picture

you can get the most out of

you can get the most out of something you're spending money, or you can barely use it at all.

i prefer to try to get the most out of my dollars. no need to insult me just because you don't.

boopiejones's picture

so that means you wear the

so that means you wear the same underwear everyday? disgusting!

seriously, give it up...

Theoretically your insurance

Theoretically your insurance costs should be related to how much you drive; someone who only drives a few hundred miles a year may be a much smaller risk than someone who drives tens of thousands of miles per year. Assuming their driving records are the same of course...

It's probably not worth the effort for insurance companies to track/enforce that kind of thing though.

lucifer's picture

Really I wouldn't even call

Really I wouldn't even call Insurance a "sunk cost" I'd call it a "Regulatory Cost" because if you own a car the state forces you to have insurance on it, at least a minimum liability coverage. Breaking it down to cost per mile is worthless because it doesn't matter if you drive or not, you have to have the insurance to register the car!

i was looking @ berkeley to

i was looking @ berkeley to embarcadero which is where most people actually go for work
@ 24¢ per mile it's $2.76 one way versus $3.70 for BART
last time i checked $2.76 is less than $3.70
Frank Verdin

Even without financing you

Even without financing you still have to pay for it. $20,000/150k miles (frinstance) = 13¢/mile for the purchase alone, not counting maintenance. Though if you skimp on maintenance then a $20,000 car may not make it to 150k miles.

bartarded's picture

most cars don't actually need

most cars don't actually need 30k service. changing your own oil & filters is easy.

try using elbow grease instead of paying others to do it for you.

Sooner or later things like

Sooner or later things like not changing coolant, brake fluid, timing belts and the like will
bite you hard. There is no such thing as a car that needs "little or no maintenance." Granted,
some are much closer than others but eventually you will pay if you ignore scheduled service.

bartarded's picture

haven't done anything i

haven't done anything i didn't do myself to my current car.

135k miles and going strong.

economy asian autos are made to last.

You are either a pretty good

You are either a pretty good home mechanic or damn lucky.

bartarded's picture

neither. low-end toyota and

neither. low-end toyota and nissan cars are really hard to mess up.

That is if the car is already

That is if the car is already paid off. If you don't own it yet then the cost is .24/mile plus $20-$30,000 in cash amortized however you want.

Our energy woes might be a lot more manageable if everyone with a car was wealthy enough to just go down to the nearest car store and pay cash for a new, low-maintenance, high-efficiency vehicle.

TreoBART's picture

OK so if you buy a sub 20k

OK so if you buy a sub 20k car that gets extremely good gas mileage with cash, get minimal insurance, don't pay for parking either at BART or at your workplace, carpool with three to get free bridge toll, and do all your own vehicle maintenance and service, it costs less. I have a feeling your average BART rider doesn't do that.

bartarded's picture

average bart rider probably

average bart rider probably doesn't have a car. heck a lot of them are apparently too poor to even pay to ride the system since i see them jumpin the fare gates so much

TreoBART's picture

See now, based on what I see

See now, based on what I see at the East Bay parking lots, I don't think that's true. I'm glad I have a job that gets me to the station early because I always get parking, but I bet there's times people have to drive because the lots are full. There's plenty of people out there who take BART to save money, because they don't like to drive in the city, or because they want to work or read on their way to the office.

That's a study I'd like to see. What is the actual demographic makeup of the people using the BART system, per line. Age, income, race, etc.

bartarded's picture

oh yeah i forgot about the

oh yeah i forgot about the outlying stations.
i mostly just see oakland and downtown sf and that is fare-evasion central

Here's a comprehensive and

Here's a comprehensive and interactive site that characterizes neighborhoods across the system.


Transbay blog has a pretty good post from 2008 based on rider surveys. I think most relevant to this discussion is that 49% drive to BART, and 76% of BART riders are choice riders.

BART demographics