What is the point of the Oakland Airport Connector?

To help the Oakland Airport, right? After all, an easier transit connection will attract more passengers, right? Right?

Not according to BART.

In 2002, the City of Alameda submitted a comment on BART’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Oakland Airport Connector project, suggesting that the EIR would be improved if it examined the increase in airport passengers that would result from the enhanced connection:

However, no analysis is done to evaluate the number of passengers that may be attracted to OIA as a result of easier access to the airport. With improved access, it is reasonable to expect the percentage of the region’s air passengers using OIA will increase. The EIR/EIS should address the probable increase in the number of passengers and non-cargo flights above the MTC projections…

Sounds plausible enough. Here’s what BART has to say in response:

Airport capacity is based on runway capacity and is unrelated to the transportation facilities associated with getting passengers to the airport…Even if the Connector project improves passenger access and more patrons choose the Connector over other forms of transportation to OIA, there would be no overall increase in predicted passenger traffic through the Oakland Airport. An analysis of passenger levels above what the Airport System Plan projected is not provided because no such increase in passenger levels is anticipated. [emphasis added]

Funny that.

Now, some people say that an improved connection between the Coliseum BART Station and the Oakland Airport could actually be a really good thing for Oakland, if that connection featured intermediate stops, which would have the benefit of helping spur economic growth along the Hegenberger corridor, a feature that happens to be conspicously absent from BART’s current plans.

Every time anyone brings up the scrapped intermediate stops (which were added at the insistence of the City of Oakland when the Council resolved to support the project in 2000), BART just blows them off. Here’s what BART project manager Tom Dunscombe had to say about them at last Wednesday’s MTC Programming and Allocations Committee meeting:

It’s been implied that the purpose of the project and the intermediate stations was to connect local neighborhoods to businesses on Hegenberger Road. Of course, the purpose of the project is connect the greater Bay Area to the Oakland Airport. In fact, BART has gone out of its way not to duplicate local AC Transit bus service in the area, which is really, that’s really their purview.

Interestingly, this wasn’t what BART was saying back in 2002, when they adopted the project. In fact, the benefits added by the intermediate stops are listed repeatedly in the EIR as one of the reasons for the selection of this particular alternative. Here’s a sample:

Provides Opportunities for Economic Development. The prefered alternative with intermediate stations would further the economic development in the Hegenberger corridor (Evaluation Criteria 9 and 17), a specific goal of the Oakland General Plan, and would be consistent with BART’s expansion policies (Project Objective 7).

Similarly, the EIR’s ridership forecasts are heavily reliant on those all of a sudden not important intermediate stops:

Average weekday trips in 2020:
Air passenger trips on connector: 8,560
Employee trips on connector: 460
Total trips on connector: 13,450
Under the AGT Intermediate Stops Option, approximately 2,410 (2005) and 4,520 (2020) average daily passengers would enter and exit the AGT system at the intermediate stops.

In spite of this, BART keeps insisting that the EIR’s ridership projections are still valid. They claim that their new ridership forecast, which predicts a fraction of the EIR’s promised riders, is not reliable because it’s “investment grade,” and that the 13,000+ daily riders forecast in the EIR will materialize in 2020, no matter what anyone or anything says. I don’t really get how that works – I guess those thousands of people will just go to the airport instead of work? Seems weird to me.

And what about the project’s supporters? Did they care about the intermediate stops? Let’s take a look at the comments BART received on the Draft EIR and find out.

From the City of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency, Redevelopment Division:

Furthermore, a bus route to the airport would not allow for the intermediate stops serving major developments and activity centers along the Hegenberger corridor, which are crucial to the businesses and families populating these areas.

Crucial? Really? Here’s one from Jamie Henderson, no affiliation noted:

Further, a bus route to the airport would not allow for the intermediate stops serving major developments and activity centers along the Hegenberger corridor which are crucial to the businesses and families populating these areas.

Gee, that makes it sound like the intermediate stops are kind of a big deal. Here’s another, the Coliseum Neighborhood Council:

Furthermore, a bus route to the airport would not allow for the immediate stops serving major developments and activity centers along the Hegenberger corridor that are crucial to the businesses and families populating these areas.

Are you noticing a pattern yet? Here’s another, from the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce:

Furthermore, a bus route to the airport would not allow for the intermediate stops serving major developments and activity centers along the Hegenberger corridor which are crucial to the businesses and families populating these areas.

Don’t worry, they aren’t all identical. From SIMEON Commercial Properties:

Furthermore, the bus route to the airport would effectively curtail the potential for economic redevelopment along the Hegenberger Corridor as the opportunities for transit oriented developments, such as Metroport, would be eliminated. in an area that could benefit greatly from economic development and a reduction in vehicle traffic, the AGT Alternative provides the perfect solution to both those problems through the benefits provided by the proposed intermediate stations.

And finally, the Airport Area Business Association:

The Quality Bus alternative will not allow for stops serving major developments and activity centers along the Hegenberger corridor.

BART’s response to all these letters is a curt “comment noted.” I think it might be a good time for them to go back and look at their notes.

Anyway, here’s what I’m having trouble figuring out. If the purpose of the Oakland Airport Connector is not to help spur growth along Hegenberger, and it isn’t to increase passengers at the Oakland Airport, then just what is it that we’re spending over a half a billion dollars for?

28 thoughts on “What is the point of the Oakland Airport Connector?

  1. V Smoothe Post author

    Me too! Every time I think it couldn’t be any more awful and I couldn’t hate it any more than I already do, I learn something new that makes it even worse.

  2. David

    Um, it’s obvious what we’re spending a half-billion dollars for–to help out the politically connected contractors who will build this project, and so that the politicians/board members who rammed this through will never have to pay for another home improvement or dinner in their lives.

    You know, Chicago politics (where I’m from) is plenty dirty, but a lot of times they do throw the “people” a bone, like intermediate stops. The politically connected still get their payoffs, the politicians still get their bribes, but they usually do stuff that makes sense (i.e. expanding the ‘L’ platforms, adding the “pink” line). Here they just **** away the money on boondoggles like BART to SFO and/or OAK…and heck, the whole design of BART (incompatible with other trains etc). I mean, heck, 2-3 months before every election in Chicago, the ward heelers would walk by the house, ask if there was anything we thought could use sprucing up. You mention a pothole then, it gets fixed…then they come back 2 weeks before the election to remind you who fixed it (the alderman). I’d love to have that service around here.

    I hate to say it, but I really wish a goal of the Bay Area and state gov’ts was just to be as corrupt as Chicago.

  3. Russell Spitzer

    How close are we to the point of no return on this project? Is there still time left to stop it?

  4. Colin

    Far be it from me to defend BART on any of this, but I think they’re right about the first point: The goal isn’t to increase the number of people who go to the airport, it’s to change how they get there.

    It’s unlikely that they would succeed in increasing ridership by introducing this service, so by the criteria they’re suggesting they’ll fail as well – especially without providing the intermediate stops, like you said.

  5. V Smoothe

    Colin –

    That’s the opposite of what BART says at like, every public meeting these days. When people question the connector’s value, they keep saying the Airport needs it to increase traffic!

  6. Colin

    They’re saying they want to increase the passenger traffic to the airport overall? That’s crazy talk. I mean, it’s BART and everything, but really – that’s crazy talk.

    The bit you quoted makes sense, though. I realize it’s a dead end to try to hold them to their own double-standard, but I do wonder why they’d want to argue the opposite at public meetings. Is the airport well shy of capacity? Is there some master plan to add new terminals?

    It bothers me when people say what they think the room wants to hear.

  7. V Smoothe

    BART is so horrible and just lies and lies and lies at every meeting and to the press and to the public and tells different lies to every different agency they present their glitzy boondoggle to. They lie about their EIR, they lie about traffic, they lie about project supporters, they lie about the design, they lie about the funding, they lie about the history, they lie about what they have and have not studied, they just lie and lie and lie about everything there is to lie about and are determined to build this thing even if it bankrupts the Port, themselves, and every other pot of transportation money in the region. It’s so infuriating!

    Okay, I’m starting to sound hysterical and should probably take a break from commenting on this for a while.

    Russell –

    YES! There is still a possibility of stopping it! Chances get slimmer all the time, of course, but all hope is not lost. Check back tomorrow for more info.

  8. Max Allstadt

    So, to clarify, BART has:

    Lied with statistics.
    Created an astroturf campaign to create the illusion of broad support.
    Knowingly lied by omission, repeatedly. (When they say voters approved the project but omit that voters approved intermediate stops and 1/5th of the cost)

    BART is also in the habit of mismanaging it’s police force, and jerking it’s unions workers around to no end.

    It is time for new leadership. Watch the blogosphere in 2010 for candidates to replace some of the incompetent members of the BART board. James Fang has already been declared a target. He’s the last elected Republican in San Francisco, so taking him down should be like shooting fish in a barrel with a grenade launcher. There are others that will also have to go. There really seems to be no solution to BARTs problems other than to drive out the long term incumbents and replace them with people who actually know and care about transit.

  9. Andy K

    As the project is going to be constructed on City of Oakland property (inside the right of way of City Streets) they will need a City Permit to build this thing. That is one way it can be stopped. No permit, no project.

    Has anyone pointed our how ugly this thing will be? Go up MLK under the existing BART structure to Berkeley. That thing takes up so much of the sky, and blocks the view across the street. Hegenberger has just undergone a make over. This is a gateway to our City. Do we really want to place this concrete monstrosity at our door step? Force them to underground it – that will break the outrageous budget, thus killing the project.

  10. dto510

    BART says over and over that the connector will increase use of the Oakland Airport. Carol Ward-Allen, who represents Central and East Oakland on the BART Board, says that Southwest and other airlines opened in SFO because of their connector.

    The financing plan for the OAC includes a Passenger Facility Charge that would applies to all airplane tickets, few of which will be held by people who used the OAC even under BART’s projections.

  11. dto510

    Andy K – the city of Oakland agreed in 2006 to provide the permits and right-of-way for the Airport Connector project. BART has since violated the agreement, most notably by neglecting to give the City Council 15 days to comment on the RFP before it was issued. The city was not given the RFP until after it was issued. The agreement also appears to require BART to at least try to finance an intermediate stop, which they haven’t done. In the Fall the Council will decide how to proceed. I for one hope the Council reopens negotiations with BART at least to protect ourselves against our transportation funds being raided to pay for overruns.

  12. Karen Smulevitz

    David, Chicago is my home town, too, and I have some dreamy memories of Wacker Drive, all greenlighted and other worldly, and of Wabash Avenue, in an almost Gothic darkness under the ugly and dirty and noisy Elevated tracks. But for some reason, we loved that bad ol’ El. My favorite restaurant was the Epicurean on Wabash, where you could enjoy a Manhattan, eat Hungarian goulash and struedel, and then walk a short ways to the El station to go home. Ugly as it was, the El worked, because it got you where you needed to go, cheaply. It gave as much as it detracted, unlike the dreaded OAC, which will sit there infront of our faces and give us nothing for our money.
    When I was a little girl I knew about ward bosses, but didn’t quite understand. Before one election, I saw men installing a row of voting booths with those levers like one-armed bandits in the school gym. I said, “Oh, look at Mayor Daley’s machine!”

  13. Matt

    What amazes me is that the $500+ million OAK connector project won’t even go to the terminals. They plan on running it into the parking lot somewhere, or inside a new garage, where it would be no more convenient than driving, in terms of getting your bags and yourself to the ticketing areas. At most airports with mass transit (ie, SFO, PDX, JFK, etc. not to mention most European airports) the train runs directly into/under/over at least one terminal (if not more). This project is so short-sighted and has so many flaws, including those that would actually attract people to it. If AC Transit is smart, they will keep their current Coliseum BART to OAK bus route after the connector is built, increase the frequency and market the heck out of it. Though I’m sure BART will have some “non-competition” clause somewhere in the deal.

  14. David

    Karen. Vote early, vote often. I lived up in the 47th, Gene Schulter’s ward (one of the most consistent Daley machine aldermen, for Daley Sr, and Jr–Gene was installed by Sr in the ’60′s at the tender age of 27 and has been there since).

    But as corrupt as the Machine is, at least we got our potholes filled, like you say.

    What I don’t get is Oakland is literally 1/7th the size of Chicago, but the politicians/political class is probably 10 times worse at responding to constituents, the opposite of what you’d expect. And it’s not just oakland, it’s local gov’ts like SF etc too.

  15. dto510

    Matt, BART’s proposed agreement with the Port includes a non-compete clause to prevent a free employee shuttle like SFO is doing, but they have no agreement with AC Transit. It would be very difficult for AC Transit to upgrade their local service, though, because the OAC would take basically all the money available for the area.

  16. Chuck

    David: “Here they just **** away the money on boondoggles like BART to SFO and/or OAK…and heck, the whole design of BART (incompatible with other trains etc).”

    Can you explain how it is that the L is compatible with / shares its trackway with other trains, etc? I realize you may be talking about other systems within the megaloplolis of Chicago (Metra, IIRC runs standard gauge on freight track), but it’s disingenuous to knock BART for its lack of interoperability with other trains since it’s a 100% right-of-way separated system. Unless you are referring to the cost of the custom-built cars… But the OAC != BART as we know it; it’d be a seprate system altogether.

    And yeah, you know, I admit the SFO connector was a boondoggle. A boondoggle I love every time me or my friends and family get to take BART directly to SFO. Was it wasteful spending? Maybe. We can argue that point. But the OAK connector is something else. It’s something me and my friends and family will never be able to take directly to OAK, and it’s something we’ll never be able to utilize without significant farebox surcharge (the new SFO surcharge would blush at what the OA

    Matt, BART’s proposed agreement with the Port includes a non-compete clause to prevent a free employee shuttle like SFO is doing, but they have no agreement with AC Transit. It would be very difficult for AC Transit to upgrade their local service, thoC is putting on the table!). Moreover, the current requirements for the OAC are somewhat better than the current AirBART system (albeit at twice the fare) yet aren’t much, if any, better than what grade-level bus or light rail systems could provide.

    I understand the frustration with what BART’s doing and I 100% agree we need to seek a better solution… but I don’t think vaguely criticizing BART in general is the way to get it done. Those of us who support more tenable solutions (and I’d love to see more successful examples of what BRT and possibly LRT!) should be pushing in the same general direction to get these solutions out there and rolling — at least in proof of concept — rather than lamenting the perceived waste there is in the existing implementations.

  17. Chuck

    Oof. I was editing the above and it got stuck with a gross middle-click-to-paste. Thanks Linux.

    This business: “Matt, BART’s proposed agreement with the Port includes a non-compete clause to prevent a free employee shuttle like SFO is doing, but they have no agreement with AC Transit. It would be very difficult for AC Transit to upgrade their local service, tho” was an inadvertent paste via middle-click.

    The paragraph should read:

    And yeah, you know, I admit the SFO connector was a boondoggle. A boondoggle I love every time me or my friends and family get to take BART directly to SFO. Was it wasteful spending? Maybe. We can argue that point. But the OAK connector is something else. It’s something me and my friends and family will never be able to take directly to OAK, and it’s something we’ll never be able to utilize without significant farebox surcharge (the new SFO surcharge would blush at what the OAC is putting on the table!). Moreover, the current requirements for the OAC are somewhat better than the current AirBART system (albeit at twice the fare) yet aren’t much, if any, better than what grade-level bus or light rail systems could provide.

    Embarrassed and terribly sorry for the confusion!

  18. Steve Lowe

    It might be interesting if this discussion were to be brought before City Council so that the City’s support for the Airport Connector could be clear and CEDA’s official position would be documented. My guess is that no one on Council could reasonably support the Connector if they had to expound on its (obviously nonexistent) virtues during a Council debate.

    Meanwhile, there’s CyberTran which solves all the problems: express service to your destination because the trains don’t stack up in queue, waiting for the station to clear before they can stop at the platform to let off passengers. Instead, your car is shunted off to the exact platform for which it has been programmed by the riders headed to that specific destination. So you don’t go to just the one stop that the current version of the Airport Connector does, you go right to your own airline terminal. And it costs less to install and operate. And it doesn’t need operators, conductors or any other kind of on-board employee, so the system can’t be shut down or otherwise paralyzed due to strikes, just like the elevator in your favorite building doesn’t stop operating when there’s a dispute between, say, building management and janitorial.

    Bob Gammon did a piece in the East Bay Express last week. Check it out!

    Thanks,

    – S

    [Oh, the big drawback us that the system is unique, so no one can compete against it costwise, utility-wise, deliverability-wise and just plain old fashioned thinking wise. If BART can't put it out under an RFP precisely because it is unique and therefore would end up being sole-source, then we're all obligated by yet another all-too-esoteric-for-us-commoners legal glitch to pay for a Connector that, at four to five times the cost of a Group Rapid Transit (GRT) system like CyberTran and less than ten percent of the flexibility, deliverability, efficiency and service, is more aptly described as a Divider.]

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    Steve –

    Actually, technology type isn’t specified in the RFP, a range are available, so Cybertran could bid if it met other requirements, which it doesn’t. As for the cost – it is preposterous to say something costs $X when it has never actually been built. PRT/GRT is a joke, and there’s a reason that nobody has ever managed to actually build it in the 40 years this “technology” has been kicking around – all their preposterous claims don’t actually pencil out when it comes to REALITY.

  20. Steve Lowe

    Maybe I can get Neil Sinclair to respond, as he’s the main proponent of the system and, unlike so many others who want the OAC built, an actual resident of Oakland! I know that’s a mark against him, but maybe he can shed light on a technology that is respected enough by investors to keep it alive?

    ????

    – S

  21. V Smoothe Post author

    Steve –

    This discussion is about the Airport Connector. I am not going to let my discussion get cluttered up with off-topic advocacy of a system that doesn’t actually exist. If I ever decide to write a post about CyberTran, you’re welcome to invite anyone you like to respond. Until then, please respect the actual topic at hand. If you want a blog where you can talk all the time about how great CyberTran is, you should start one. Your relentless and irrelevant comments about this ridiculous company are starting to border on spam.

  22. Neil

    Steve and V Smoothe-

    Re the ability of Cybertran to meet the requirements of the OAC, the answer is that the requirements in terms of capacity and velocity are so low that most people ask us why we would bother. However, the issue in the US is that there is no program for transit technology innovation, which is why BART and every other transit agency buys their vehicles from foreign suppliers. So no, we cannot respond to the RFP, because BART has made it clear that the system must already be in revenue service somewhere else. We are working on the funding for a demonstration program that overcopmes that hurdle and settles these questions about efficacy that come up.

    To really understand the PRT/GRT market, one must become familiar with its history, the various technologies, the politics at the federal level, and more. I could write a book about it. Having said that, I would be happy to answer any questions if there are any.

    Neil

  23. V Smoothe Post author

    Steve and Neil –

    I really want this conversation to be about the Airport Connector that BART is proposing right now, not some totally other kind of technology that isn’t on the table and never has been for this project. I would really appreciate it if we could not turn this thread into a discussion of CyberTran. But here’s what I will do – I promise that at some point during the City Council’s recess this summer, I will write a blog specifically about CyberTran and PRT/GRT technologies, and you will be more than welcome to leave as many comments as you like in the comments on that post.

  24. Steve Lowe

    Okay…

    I’ll wait until later in the summer to discuss it, though it’s bugging me a little that this has been brought up several times in the past in conjunction with plans that we presented for a Coli makeover into something that would work for the A’s, Raiders and everyone else – but had to be shelved until the “right time.”

    That whole area out there looks like one of those snake balls that forms under your house and you can’t ever go back again because you’re too grossed out, yet there are solutions that we as a community could come to but are prevented from doing so by the stranglehold of bureauthink and/or Luddite advocacy groups who insist we cling to outdated models.

    If you want to concentrate strictly on the current Airport Connector proposal without discussing alternatives, then the AC proponents will eventually prevail because they their position by saying that if we don’t approve now, we’ll lose the funding, jobs, ridership, airport expansion, etc., all of which is currently being countered by the BRT people.

    And that very much seems like the only way of derailing AC: proving that, in comparison to BRT, it’s way too expensive for whatever weenie benefits might come someday when the airlines are all three times as expensive and annoying than they are even today, and the runways are all underwater from our ever-rising seas anyway.

    Oakland’s commitment to the East Bay Green Corridor as the next Silicon Valley – driven by Green Tech instead of microchips – should be underscored by great projects, not a bunch of buses buzzing around to improve EBGC access.

    Thanks,

    – S

    [As to spam, I've maybe made 6 or so comments that included references to CyberTran amongst the several more that I've submitted to this blogsite in regerence to the A's, Coli, the retention effort, etc., all of which are, when you really think about it, pretty much dependent on a comprehensive vision for what is today a hodgepodge of planning efforts that – as perhaps best illustrated by the AC itself – rise up in their own particular vacuums and take off with absolutely no thought of anything else. Interestingly, the afterthought of improved access to the Airport business area along Edgewater seems more and more to be the damning factor in the AC buildout.]

  25. David Vartanoff

    First, V, Thanks for the ridership smoke and mirrors. Makes clear the absolute insanity of the OAC. So the real question is how do we get the project killed?

  26. Becks

    By coming to the MTC meeting on Wednesday at 10am and convincing them not to fund the project. You can find details about the meeting here.

  27. Hayden

    I appreciate, on some level, BART’s response about airport passenger numbers being driven by runway capacity. At least, *maximum* passenger numbers are ultimately driven by a combination of runway capacity and the overall equipment mix. I also remember participating in OAK planning meetings for a 2nd commercial traffic runway in the late 1990s. With the recession (and possible future high-speed train link to LA, which could reduce intra-California flights), OAK has backed away from its trend to exceed maximum capacity.

    That said, of course BART’s response doesn’t address anything other than the limiting (maximum usage) case. Surely something useful could’ve been said–even qualitatively–about the OAC’s potential effects on pax, employee access to OAK, etc.

    Off topic, as a Chicago native, I’d note that Chicago wards had plenty of potholes, poor schools, and irregular garbage service if you weren’t someone Daley cared about. West Side neighborhoods like Austin were good examples.