BART celebrates a milestone birthday in Oakland

A Bay Area icon is celebrating a milestone birthday. 

BART is now 50 years old and people gathered in downtown Oakland for a big celebration to honor the system. 

The once thriving transit system has lost some of its shine in recent years, but it’s still an integral tool thousands of people use daily to get around the Bay Area.

The service opened to the public on September 11, 1972. 

"Since then our trains have carried more than 3.5 billion passenger trips," said Rebecca Saltzman, President of the BART Board of Directors. 

That was one of many facts you could learn during Saturday's birthday celebration at the Lake Merritt station. 

"It’s just a good opportunity for people to come out, learn about BART and have some fun at the same time," said Jim Allison, a BART Spokesperson.

You could learn from a video at the BART-IN theater… or first-hand from the many employees on hand… like Mike Healy, a retired 32-year BART media man who literally wrote the book on BART and shared this factoid from the 90s. 

"One of the things that a lot of people don’t know is we had a baby born on BART and it’s the only baby ever born on BART on a Hayward train and the train operator had to become the midwife during this process, said Healy.

BART workers turned the clock back by pulling items from a time capsule buried thirty years ago.  They’re creating a new one to be opened in 2045.

At a display of tracks, one woman learned you can escape to safety if you fall off the platform.

"You can go under the platform from the tracks and get out of the way of the train," said Linda Gallaher-Brown.  

In addition to facts, there was plenty of fun and free stuff for those inclined to stand in line and take a spin. One long-time BART rider won a pen with a BART map that rolls out.

"I like the new BART map, let’s see if it has the new stations, Oh, so they have the new stations.  So, it’s an upgrade," said Jane Louie.

BART, both bemoaned and beloved, is struggling in its fiftieth year with weekday ridership at 38% of pre-pandemic levels, but the agency says it’s making better progress on weekends.

One way the transit agency is trying to entice people to ride is by touting its commitment to safety and its new railcars.

"It feels very modern, very much like some of the transit systems in Europe or Asia," said Allison.

Another way BART is trying to lure people back is by offering 50% off for the month of September. They’re hoping people will take advantage of the offer and decide to keep coming back.