OAKLAND, Calif. - Compared to its original plan, BART's $2.6 billion "Fleet of the Future" will not be fully online until well into the future, delayed by technical issues and COVID.
The transformational transit project has suffered numerous delays, driving the budget upward. Getting the full order of BART's 775 car "Fleet of the Future" has been delayed from mid-2022, to late 2022 and now, into the spring of 2023.
"They need to work harder on the contract management and engineering," said BART rider Carmelia Hicks.
Thanks to the pandemic, the delay is no surprise to industry experts.
"We saw that there were shortages, that there was reduced production and also there were cases at our ports and with our long haul drivers," said Karen Philbrick, who heads the SJSU Mineta Transportation Institute.
That said, BART has its biggest fleet ever: 798 trains.
That's 129 more than when the new fleet started to arrive.
There are 286 Fleet of the Future cars and 512 of the older cars in service.
"The new cars have just less seating area, so for me, I do prefer the older ones. I don't care about them; they do look nice," said rider Noelle Cristancho.
"Whoever designed those new BART trains definitely listen to the people, listening to the people that have been on BART for a long time," said rider Matthew Long.
With current ridership down due to the COVID pandemic, BART is actually running 621 cars but has enough cars in reserve to handle whatever increases come. BART stopped accepting new cars last January and won’t accept any more new until a program of reliability improvements are completed.
Some of the new cars had a number of train control software problems that caused shutdowns and delays. That problem appears to have been mostly corrected but not fully as yet. Some other issues with wheels developing noisy flat spots also persist.
As of last Friday, BART hauled 120,000 passengers; 28% of pre-COVID levels. BART board members and the agency's media team declined requests for interviews.
"Transit ridership plummeted at the height of the pandemic; in some cases up to 96% in some cases," said Philbrick. Weekend levels are back to 55% of pre-COVID traffic. But, BART does not expect to get back to 55% of its pre-pandemic weekday traffic until next July.
That's because a lot of people can now work from home and many people still think the potential of COVID on transit systems is very real.
"What we know from the scientific literature, is that absolutely was not the case," Philbrick said. As a result, BART says, it may take as long as eight years to return fully pre-pandemic ridership.