BART touts air filter upgrades in hopes of boosting rider confidence

On Tuesday BART officials unveiled the transit agency's newest tool to help keep passengers safe from getting COVID while onboard trains.

BART recently installed air filters inside its filtration system called MERV-14, an upgrade from the previous MERV- 8 filters. The agency said they are the highest-rated filters in use by any transit system in the U.S.

"We need to communicate with our riders that from a COVID-19 perspective you can feel safe getting into a BART car. And there is no threat of transmission when you are in the BART system," said BART General Manager Bob Powers.

For BART, COVID safety is an important selling point as it looks to lure back riders who seem to have abandoned the system in favor of their cars, since the pandemic.

"We know there are people who used to ride BART and are driving right now. So part of it is just changing the commute patterns. They got into a new rhythm of commuting and we just need to convince them to just try us once," said BART Spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

Before the pandemic, more than 400,000 commuters rode BART each day. Now it's less than a third of that, about 130,000 daily riders.

The agency says the ridership appears to be tied to the number of offices that are requiring employees to leave home and appear in person.

"BART ridership is tracking with office occupancy...Those who are coming back, are taking the train. But we still see a lot of traffic. So there is a lot to do in winning back those riders," Trost said.

BART expects more businesses to open up in January. And it projects that it will reach 50% of pre-pandemic ridership by next summer

"To us, that is a success story. Which says a lot about the pandemic that 50% of pre-pandemic would be a success," said Trost.