FutureStructure

San Francisco-Bound BART Suffers Systemwide Meltdown

The morning commute meltdown capped off a week of service failures and long wait times for the transportation system.

by Lizzie Johnson, Kimberly Veklerov, Hamed Aleaziz and Sarah Ravani, San Francisco Chronicle / January 9, 2017 0

(TNS) -- A train stuck for more than an hour Friday morning at the West Oakland BART station caused major systemwide delays for thousands of frustrated riders who were forced to find another way to get to their destinations, officials said.

The San Francisco-bound train at the West Oakland station stalled about 7:30 a.m. and BART workers said it locked up for some unknown reason.

All trains in the East Bay came to a standstill because of the problem, stranding riders on packed trains and station platforms, as BART workers scrambled to get the stalled train moved.

The morning commute meltdown capped off a week of service failures and long wait times for the transportation system.

Commuters were forced to find alternate means of transportation. BART employees told hundreds of angry riders to either take a cab or bus to get to wherever they were going.

But free bus passes or extra AC Transit were not offered to the scores of people who were stuck due to the systemwide problems.

One man holding a rolling suitcase desperately tried to flag down taxis and shuttles at the Downtown Berkeley station.

“Is anyone going to the airport?” he said, his face covered in a sheen of sweat.

As commuters filed out of stations to try to find other means of transportation, BART crews slowly worked to remove the stalled train from the West Oakland. Just before 9 a.m., BART workers were able to move the disabled train.

“That train is headed to the Daly City maintenance yard and will be checked out to find out what was wrong with that,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison, adding that it was unclear what caused the train to stop functioning.

As of 9:30 a.m., there were 20-minute delays on BART in all directions.

Maria Smith, 23, was heading to work in the city and was stuck at the 12th Street Oakland station for nearly an hour.

“Every day it's a delay, but this is terrible,” Smith said. “BART has to get it together, as much money as we give them. We don’t even know what’s going on. Everyone is confused. Something needs to happen, more trains, lower fares. This can’t be happening.”

And despite efforts to single-track trains around the problem, trains were jam-packed with people. Only a few commuters at a time were able to squeeze onto full trains that stopped briefly at the West Oakland station platform, and the scene was met with both laughter and anger.

Ashwin Rodrigues, 26, had left his Emeryville home a half-hour early to make a 9 a.m. work meeting near the Montgomery station in San Francisco.

“The first San Francisco-bound train that pulled into West Oakland was already so filled with people,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone got on. I definitely did not. I am still waiting. I laughed with the guy next to me when the sardine car pulled up.”

He eventually gave up and camped out at a nearby coffee shop to wait out the crowds. Rodrigues wasn’t alone when he opted out of dealing with the large crowds of people pushing to get onto trains.

Jess Brown, who was going from Fremont to San Francisco, hopped off at Oakland City Center to get himself a cup of coffee.

“Delays happen and BART's pretty good at letting us know what's going on,” Brown said.

In November, voters passed a $3.5 billion bond measure to improve BART’s aging infrastructure.

“I’m glad the measure got passed for BART to improve its infrastructure. They're between a rock and a hard place working with a 40-year-old system,” Brown said.

Since many of his co-workers were also delayed getting to the office, they rescheduled a 9 a.m. meeting to the afternoon, he added, giving him enough time to enjoy that cup of coffee before heading back into the transit mess.

The East Bay BART stops weren’t the only trains that were loaded with people. Trains heading to San Francisco and Pleasanton from Daly City were also crammed with bodies as passengers waited up to 20 minutes for an empty train. Nearly 100 passengers were able to finally board after a train arrived around 9:05 a.m.

Carlos Cea, a 35-year-old software engineer who works in the East Bay, had been waiting at the station for several minutes and had not seen any updates on train times.

“It’s kind of disheartening, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know when you’re going to get there,” he said as a BART delay announcement rang overhead.

About five minutes later, a train arrived in the direction he hoped for but it stayed at the station for another five minutes.

Trains headed toward San Francisco and Bay Point were stalled at the station for several minutes before starting up again to depart to the next stop.

“It started as a five-minute delay, and it became a major delay in a span of five minutes,” said Divya Ravi, 30, who caught an Uber to San Francisco instead of waiting around for BART.

Uber surged its prices as strangers rallied together to arrange rideshare carpools from the East Bay into city. Prices for Uber were over $30 into the city from the West Oakland BART station.

But the roads weren’t much better.

Traffic on westbound Highway 24 in Oakland was clogged due to a three-vehicle crash around 8:35 a.m. east of the Broadway off-ramp near Highway 13.

Debris littered the roadway and blocked at least one of the lanes, said Officer Sean Wilkenfeld, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.

Highway 24 remained backed up near the Caldecott Tunnel, he added.

Despite the slow steady pace of cars in the morning, the traffic did not dramatically increase enough to show a clear connection to the BART delay, officials said.

“In the past when BART has had issues, we have seen a huge increase in traffic levels,” Wilkenfeld said. “Traffic’s normally heavy at this time of day anyway.”

Traffic levels were no where near those of the BART shut down of 2013, when workers went on a four-day strike, Wilkenfeld said.

“After this week, I think both BART and Muni owe us an apology, hug, and ice cream to make amends with transit riders,” said 36-year-old Shaun Osburn, a San Francisco resident.

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.