TIFFS: The right route when the going gets tougher?

Number six in the Transport in a Fine Fix Series.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the expression “expect the unexpected.” So what can be expected when the unexpected happens? Well, that would depend on what the unexpected happening is.

Fork in the road

Over the weekend beginning Friday, Oct. 18th, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service suffered a work stoppage. I understand BART provides roughly 400,000 daily rides. And now BART riders are scrambling to find alternative ways to get to places they need to go – mostly to work and back, I would imagine.

Now, the question becomes one of how to minimize delay with the transit service out of commission.

I could see such providing an opportunity for employees caught up in this dilemma to have work schedules adjusted so that all those affected can avoid the rush-hour crush, so to speak. Another would be workers getting the green light to telework where applicable.

I have to admit the Bay Area situation is exceptional. But it does demonstrate one thing: what can happen when a mode people rely on to get to and from some place is no longer available for use. What this effectively results in is an additional strain being put on other available transport options. It is these other options that, all of a sudden, must handle the added burden.

With the excess numbers of commuters right now taking to the streets and highways on account of BART being stabled, studied should be the increase in delay and what effect this situation has on productivity, fuel use, in-transit commute time and air quality, to name several – what I would call regional impacts.

When natural disaster strikes

Likewise and thinking back, I would also want to know what the impacts were to BART and other Bay Area-based transit systems after the Oct. 17, 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake struck. There was considerable damage caused. Many local roads and highways became impassable. In fact, a portion of the upper deck of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed onto the bottom level. Furthermore, whole sections of Bay Area double-stacked highways were leveled. Fortunately, damage sustained by regional transit networks was considered minor by comparison. As such, BART and other local transit agencies were called upon to handle increased passenger loads. There were other times, too, when traveler-overflow relief was provided similarly.


Incidentally, during the 1994 Northridge quake – also in California – making impassable many area highways and byways, Metrolink commuter rail service likewise was affected only minimally and but for a very brief period of time. Shortly after that natural disaster, the southern California-based commuter rail service was extended northwest to Camarillo and Oxnard, whereas before the temblor struck, such service was non-existent.

A la mode

What all of this boils down to is identifying the mode or modes that do a better job of moving masses of people with less environmental impact both under normal and exceptional circumstances. Then, to move forward with greater implementation of and reliance on such, just makes sense!

Image above: U.S. Geological Survey

Leave a Comment