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With BART strike imminent, alternatives in demand

on October 10, 2013

As a BART strike looms, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) recommends workers telecommute or use transit alternatives such as buses, ferries or carpooling.

“The best thing you can do is not put any stress on the transportation network at all,” said MTC spokesman John Goodwin. “Beyond telecommuting, carpooling is the next best thing.”

The MTC and Caltrans are trying to make carpooling easy and attractive. If the strike happens, MTC said it will offer $5 gift cards to Peet’s Coffee & Tea to casual carpool drivers in San Francisco.

Caltrans will extend diamond lane hours in key areas and on the Bay Bridge. It will also designate an Oakland on-ramp for buses, carpools and vanpools.

To join or start a carpool, commuters can use the 511 RideMatch, which is a free service.

The Casual Carpool site offers a more freeform approach to carpooling. It allows drivers and passengers to meet without prior arrangement at designated stops across the Bay Area. A map of stop locations is available here.

“There’s a very robust system of casual carpooling from the East Bay into San Francisco,” Goodwin said. But he explained that fewer carpools operate in the opposite direction. He said the MTC is trying to change that with its incentives.

“We’re just trying to create a little equilibrium there,” he said.

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Additional ferry services to be offered

In the event of a strike, the San Francisco Bay Ferry system will offer expanded hours on its most popular routes, including its service from Oakland and Alameda to San Francisco.

“If there is a strike we will do everything we can,” said spokesman Ernest Sanchez. “But no one can replace BART.”

Sanchez said ferries typically disembark from Oakland for San Francisco at 6 a.m. on weekdays, but if a strike happens, they will leave at 5:30 a.m. Expanded hours will remain  in effect over the weekend if necessary.

Sanchez anticipated that wait times to board ferries would vary from five minutes to an hour, or longer, depending on the time of day. He said that, if possible, passengers should avoid traveling at peak hours, which last from roughly 6:30 to 8:00 a.m., and from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

The ferry agency plans to open an extra parking lot at its Oakland terminal, but no additional parking will be available at other East Bay docks. Sanchez said that commuters should avoid driving to the ferries, and should instead arrive by bus, bike or carpool, if possible.

For more information on ferry services during the strike, commuters can visit the San Francisco Bay Ferry website.

If the trains shut down, weekday passenger loads on the ferries could more than triple. On a typical weekday, the agency serves roughly 6,000 passengers, Sanchez said. But during a previous BART strike this July, roughly 20,000 people turned to the ferries.

But this time around, the influx of commuters could actually be higher because the previous strike occurred during a holiday.

“That a heavy load for us,” said Sanchez. “That’s a full deployment.”

The agency will press four additional boats into service if necessary, upping the agency’s total operating vessels from eight to 12. It will borrow two of those ships from the Golden Gate Ferry, which typically runs between Marin County and San Francisco.

The San Francisco Bay Ferry system won’t incur extra costs if BART workers strike. The opposite may be the case, Sanchez said. Typically the agency covers about 40 percent of its expenses with revenue from fares. If passengers pour onto the ferries during a strike, revenue could increase to 70 percent of expenses.

Publicity will be another silver lining.

“The main thing is the strike exposes people to the ferry,” Sanchez said. “They know it is there then, in the event of an emergency.”

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