Customer survey shows BART has lowest customer satisfaction in 20 years

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BART rider approval reached a historic low in 2016, according to a BART customer satisfaction study presented to the Board of Directors on Wednesday.

Overall customer satisfaction dropped from 84 percent in 2012 to 69 percent in 2016 — the lowest level since BART’s first systematic survey in 1996. Ridership, however, has increased to a historic high of more than 430,000 riders on an average weekday. The aspects with the largest decline in satisfaction are noise level on trains, availability of seats on trains and elevator availability and reliability, according to the study.

“We understand why BART riders are frustrated,” said Rebecca Saltzman, president of the BART Board of Directors. “I ride BART myself frequently and I see that trains are increasingly crowded and delayed.”

The study also identified the high ridership and crowding as well as the aging BART system with equipment breakdowns and delays as primary factors for the decline in satisfaction.

“It speaks for the need for a public transport system in the Bay Area,” said Susan Shaheen, a campus adjunct professor for transportation engineering. “So, on a positive note, the results suggest that funds are needed to maintain, if not expand the BART system.”

Several programs — such as the “Better BART” projects that began in 2014 — are in place to improve BART’s services. They are mainly aimed at increasing capacity and improving reliability, as much of the equipment is now 40 years old, according to BART spokesperson Chris Filippi.

As part of its “Fleet of the Future” program, BART is currently testing new rail cars, which will begin to be implemented later this year. These new cars are quieter and feature “sophisticated layouts” including digital readouts, Filippi said.

In order to increase capacity, BART will both increase the number of train cars and run trains more frequently, said Robert Raburn, vice president of the BART Board of Directors. BART aims to use only 10-car trains during the peak commute time. A new train control system will make it possible to run up to 30 trains per hour through the Transbay Tube, which connects West Oakland and Embarcadero. The current system limits that number to 23 trains per hour, according to Raburn.

In November, Alameda County voted in favor of Bond Measure RR, which will bring $3.5 billion to BART starting later this year. Ninety percent of the money will be allocated toward rebuilding already existing infrastructure — such as aging rails, old switches and electric cables — and “safer, more reliable modernized stations,” according to Raburn.

“These are major projects,” Filippi said. “It’s going to take a while for us to fully implement these improvements.”

Diana Nguyen, a campus senior and public health major, is originally from San Jose and said she would like to see BART expand as far as her hometown.

“I think BART … is a little bit slow, and it’s not as clean as public transportation in other places,” Nguyen said. “But I think compared to back home in San Jose, where it’s mostly buses … having the BART here is pretty accessible, because you can go to the city and to different places. So, I think I’m just grateful for that.”

Charlotte Kosche covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.