Friday, May 15, 2009

BART Makes Right Choice on Airport Tram

By Robert Gammon
Fri, May 15, 2009 at 6:53 AM

The BART board has finally approved a plan to finance a long-awaited connector to the Oakland Airport, according to the Chron. The $522 million infrastructure project is being made possible in part by President Obama's stimulus package. Although many transit activists oppose the project, the BART board's decision was solid. The project will generate much-needed construction jobs for the area and will ultimately provide a seamless transition for airport customers from the Oakland Coliseum BART station. The easy-to-use elevated electronic tram also will coax airline passengers out of their cars and onto BART, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For years, most Oakland Airport customers have chosen to drive, in part because of the inconvenience of BART's bus shuttle. The connector also promises to increase revenues for the struggling Port of Oakland, which owns and operates the underperforming airport.

Critics of the connector complained that it will be a waste of taxpayer funds, and urged BART to install an upgraded bus service to the airport. But the improved bus service would still create the same problems for airport customers. That is, they'd have to drag their luggage out of BART, walk out onto the street, and then hoist their bags onto a bus. With the elevated connector, the transition will be essentially the same as changing trains. The connector also will be attractive for suburban customers concerned about having to wait outside the Coliseum station for a bus, especially late in the evening.

As for the expense of the project, there's no doubt that a half-billion dollars is a lot of money. But nearly all of it will be spent on construction jobs — exactly the kind of economic stimulus that the president was looking for. Opponents, by contrast, argued that an improved bus service might help the struggling Hegenberger business corridor. But it's hard to see how an improved airport shuttle would be a boon for local shopkeepers, unless the shuttle made stops on the way — which would then defeat its primary purpose of getting passengers to and from the airport as quickly as possible.

Opponents of the project now are pinning their hopes on convincing the Port of Oakland not to go through with the plan. The cash-strapped port must pony up $44 million for the project. But opponents shouldn't hold their breaths, because the port board has historically been a big supporter of the connector and likely will just pass its costs onto airline customers.

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