BART Ridership Record - Thank You GIANTS!

Two weeks ago the city was aglow with the Worlds Series victory of the San Francisco Giants. Just like in 2010, BART's single day ridership record was broken by fans and supporters getting to the victory parade. The 2010 record of 522,000 riders was broken with a 46,000 bump to 568,000 daily riders on October 31, 2012 - a 9% increase. Without BART, thousands of fans would have been left high and dry, either sitting in cars in traffic, or staying at home watching the parade on TV rather than enjoying the thrill of seeing their champions in person.

The main factors that contributing to the new record were:
  1. Learned lessons by BART and fans last time aided in increased ridership.
    • BART had a great PR campaign to encourage folks to buy tickets days before the parade.
    • BART had all hands on deck with staff working as ambassadors at stations, and others ensuring doors closed.
    • Fans very likely learned that you needed to get to the parade early and to buy tickets early based on the long lines and huge crowds from 2010.
  2. Halloween was the same day - so many riders may have come to the city for Halloween festivities and frolicking, especially in the evening after the parade was well over.
A typically crowded BART train on a weekday at Embarcadero Station.
BART has seen a series of record breaking single day ridership records over the past 10 years. Note that these records are normally on weekdays. There have been weekend single day records, but they are much lower owing to little commuters. Below, the list shows the many record breaking days, and near record breaking days over the past 20+ years. Based on BART's news reports (not necessarily comprehensive), record breaking day ridership are in bold type. Other days that didn't break the record are still listed and often associated with an emergency that lasted several days.

BART Single-Day Ridership Records 

Single Day Ridership Day Date Event Type Events
568,061 Wednesday 2012 October 31 sports, holiday Giants World Series Victory Parade; Halloween
522,198 Wednesday 2010 November 3 sports Giants World Series Victory Parade
442,000 Thursday 2009 October 29 emergency Emergency Closure Bay Bridge – Day 2
437,400 Friday  2009 October 30 emergency Emergency Closure Bay Bridge – Day 3
437,200 Wednesday  2009 October 28 emergency Emergency Closure Bay Bridge – Day 1
405,400 Monday 2009 September 8 sports, sports Raiders vs. Broncos, Giants vs. Arizona
395,300 Friday 2009 September 4 planned bridge closure Planned Bay Bridge Closure (24 hr service)
394,400 Thursday 2008 June 19 free transit Spare the Air Day
393,200 Monday 2009 November 2 emergency Emergency Closure Bay Bridge – Day 6 – Bridge Reopened at 9 AM after morning commute
391,900 Wednesday 2008 April 9 sports, sports Olympic Torch Relay; Giants vs. San Diego
389,400 Friday 2007 August 31 planned bridge closure Day before Planned Bay Bridge Closure
381,200 Wednesday 2007 June 13 concert, sports Police Concert, Giants vs. Toronto
376,000 Wednesday 2000 October 4 sports, sports Baseball Playoffs, Giants vs. NY Mets, A’s vs. NY Yankees
375,200 Tuesday 2007 May 1 emergency MacArthur Maze Meltdown – Day 3
374,200 Thursday 2007 May 3 emergency MacArthur Maze Meltdown – Day 5
366,800 Tuesday 2000 October 3 sports Baseball Playoffs: A’s vs. NY Yankees
357,100 Thursday 1989 November 16 emergency Post Loma Prieta Earthquake – Bay Bridge Post Loma Prieta Earthquake – Bay Bridge Closed – Day 29 *
Source: news reports. *Source: "BART's Ridership Reaches Record Levels", SF Gate, 2/12/2000

What emerges is that record days are set by sporting events or Bay Bridge closures (planned and emergency). What's interesting is that since 1989, more record single day ridership days have been due to sporting events (45%), than Bay Bridge closures. However, 3 of the top 5 record days have been due to bridge closures.

As the pie chart shows below, 41% of record day ridership is due to Bay Bridge Closures, when the only direct way between the East Bay and San Francisco is via BART. More importantly, note that 32% of records are due to EMERGENCY Bay Bridge Closures, and only 9% due to planned closures (i.e. 78% of high ridership days due to bridge closures are from emergency closures when people have little or not time to plan).

In light of Superstorm Sandy and the havoc it wreaked on New York and New Jersey transit and trains, it is critical that BART continue to operate through the Transbay Tube as a lifeline link and operate in case of future emergencies that close the Bay Bridge. Without BART and the Tube under San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area transportation system, would grind to a halt during major emergencies.

Seeing how BART is so critical, it is equally critical that the Bay Bridge have contingencies set up in the event that BART were to have an emergency and halt operations. AC Transit, Caltrans, MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority should have a contingency plan set up in the event that the BART Transbay Tube is shut down - one for a shut down of more than several hours, and one for a longer term shut down of several days or even weeks in the event of an earthquake. Possible solutions include only allowing carpool vehicles (as NY & NJ have done), and creating a bus contraflow lane.

SPUR put together a report "After the Disaster", part of its Resilient City series, on how the Bay Area would rebuild its transportation network, and adapt during periods when the Bay Bridge or Transbay Tube were closed. The report calls for many contingencies and plans for special services to ensure people can cross the bay following a major disaster and allow people to get to work in the weeks and months while transportation systems are repaired or replaced.

Average Weekday Ridership Trends

In the Bay Area's Post-Loma Prieta (PLP) period (since 1989), BART's ridership has increased 51% from 207,000 average weekday riders in 1989, to 2012's current 367,000 average weekday riders, which is the highest year ever for average weekdays. Ridership this year surpassed the highs of 2008 and 2009.

The increase in BART's daily ridership, on average, has climbed about 7,000 riders per year, or about a 2% increase based on current ridership. Assuming a straight line rate, it will reach 400,000 daily riders by 2017, and 500,000 daily riders by 2032. Both of these levels are below the current one day peaks set by both World Series Parades, and the Emergency Bay Bridge Closure of 2009.

BART Average Weekday Ridership History (1972 - present)

Source: BART
Original BART estimates (shown in purple line in graph), made in the 1960's before the system was constructed, called for ridership to increase, on average, 2,200 riders per year, or about 0.7% each year based on current ridership. According to this estimate, daily weekday ridership would reach 400,000 by 2042, and 500,000 by 2088.

Eric Fischer has pointed out that only in 2000, and since 2007 have BARTs average daily ridership rates outperformed the original estimates made back in the 1960s. At a glance, it appears that initial planners grossly overestimated BART's initial ridership when it started in the 1970s. We don't know how they came up with these estimates, but they could be due to overenthusiastic optimism, or enthusiastically high numbers to justify such a large and expensive project. In the end though, BART ridership has outperformed the original estimates in terms of the rate of new riders each year.
Just for comparison, Washington DC's Metrorail system, which was built around the same time as BART, currently carries 787,000 average weekday riders - more than BART's single day record set a few days ago.

Finally, take note that 2012's current average daily ridership of 366,000, outstrips the one-day peak set in 1989 following the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Oh BART, how you have come so far along. Let's hope you can make the needed adjustments to continue meeting the region's transportation needs.
Commuters passing through Montgomery St Station
(For non-baseball fans and cultures, the World Series is the championship series of games to decide the best professional baseball team in the USA and Canada.) 


  1. Thanks from Calgary to Urban Life Signs for posting this! I've been looking for this information for a long time. Thanks again.

  2. Brian, did the original projections include all of the additional stations that have been built since 1973? If not, then comparing the original projections to the average ridership is not really valid. Maybe you could get ridership numbers just between the original stations, then that would be a valid comparison.

  3. Gary,
    Good points. I don't think the original projections assumed additional stations, but I'd have to research that. If they didn't assume them, then you're right that newer stations would skew up the actual ridership. I'll do the math and get back to you.

    That all said, I imagine that the added stations won't skew the results much since they don't add that much to the ridership proportionately. However, the Dublin Pleasanton line (L-Line) would probably have some influence. Thinking out loud, there's also the factor of end stations. They grab a disproportionate amount of riders since they aren't just attracting neighborhood riders, but also area riders not near a BART station. For example: Pittsburg/Bay Point attracts from Antioch and Brentwood. Dublin/Pleasanton attracts from Livermore, Tracy, Stockton, and San Ramon.

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