In the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the premier modes of public transportation is the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART. Run by an elected board of supervisors from each of nine geographic locations at a total yearly cost of $1.6 billion, BART services an area spanning the distance between San Francisco International Airport, SFO, to points in the East Bay as far away as Fremont, Pleasanton, Richmond and Bay Point. In any one of 43 stations, patrons will find an atmosphere that has become the great equalizer. Businesspeople ride alongside soccer moms. College students and tourists listen to the underprivileged and the homeless play the guitar and the didgeridoo for spare change. Commuters travel from all parts of the Bay Area to reach jobs in San Francisco, and still others make the reverse commute to the East Bay.
I am among the roughly 323,000 passengers BART services every weekday, as I use the service to make the commute from my home in Emeryville to the University of San Francisco. Though the trip can be long, the BART leg of the journey is the fastest and most reliable. The BART employees are courteous and attentive, and the train schedules allow for a variety of options in terms of destinations and arrival times.
Also, because the BART train system is the central artery around which the Bay's transit system is situated, the various stations act as hubs for further travel to various points of interest along the way. I have used BART to connect to many local bus services, from MUNI and SamTrans on the peninsula, to AC Transit, Emery-Go-Round and Wheels in the East Bay. Passengers can also use the system to connect to other transit systems, like Golden Gate Transit, to connect to VINE, which serves the North Bay, and CalTrain, with stops along the peninsula from downtown San Francisco to San Jose.
Though riding public transportation can be a chore sometimes, with the longer commute times relative to driving, in an age of global warming and rising gas prices, it can become the only sane alternative. There is also something to be said for mass transit's ability to create a melting pot of different cultures and classes. People from all walks of life frequent the BART station. It is here that people go to reach whatever destination life takes them.
One of BART's workers, Steve, said it is of paramount importance to get used to unusual occurrences in a BART station, because when you throw together people from different backgrounds, there are bound to be interesting results. Steve said that one major problem is people's responses to the homeless, who often frequent BART stations to panhandle, sell Street Sheets or play music for money. Sometimes, people come to BART employees expecting them to do something about homeless people asking for change. Unless they are being overly aggressive, there is nothing that BART can, or in Steve's opinion, should do about the situation.
"Most of the homeless are nice to people," he said. "You just have to get used to the shock and reality."
BART stations provide a slice of life in one of America's most diverse cities, showcasing both the economic hardship of areas like the Mission, and the affluence of places like the financial district. Because BART connects these two disparate neighborhoods and scores of others on a railway system that passengers can ride for as little as $1.40, this blending of society will remain the hallmark of BART. It is a hallmark that is here to stay as long as the heartbeat of the city pumps its life into the veins of public transportation.