While the Bay Area is known for its ride-hailing transportation startups, a low-tech casual carpool system has continued to thrive into its fourth decade.
Facing crush-load BART trains, packed buses and ferries, and congested freeways, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently approved $40 million in near-term capacity relief. The “Bay Bridge Forward” program seeks to enhance a range of bus, carpool, and ferry solutions to maximize Transbay capacity, including:
• “West Grand HOV/Bus Only Lane – Convert a shoulder of West Grand Avenue on-ramp in Oakland to a bus/high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane to enable buses and HOVs direct access to the toll plaza
• Bryant St. On-Ramp – Pilot HOV enforcement technology to reduce HOV violations, and convert existing HOV lane to an express lane, which will be free to carpools and open to solo drivers who have a choice to use the lane by paying a toll.
• Casual Carpool – Establish casual carpooling pick-up locations at key locations in San Francisco and along Interstate 80 in the East Bay
• Integrated Bridge Corridor – Integrate and optimize traffic management systems at all bridge approaches.
• Higher Capacity/Increased Express Bus Service – Retrofit buses and increase frequencies on impacted AC Transit transbay routes, and add double-decker buses on the most productive AC Transit and WestCAT Transbay express bus routes.
• Pilot Express Bus Routes – Pilot new AC Transit Transbay routes to serve increasing demand from inner East Bay residents.
• Transit Signal Priority – Give buses priority at traffic signals on the West Grand Avenue approach to the Bay Bridge.
• Commuter Parking – Establish commuter parking in the East Bay to encourage carpool and express bus ridership.
• Higher Frequency Ferry Service – Increase service frequencies on the Alameda, Oakland and Vallejo routes.
• Flexible On-Demand Transit – Provide on-demand transit services from the East Bay to job centers outside of downtown San Francisco that are not well-served by transit.
• Shared Mobility – Continue zero-dollar partnerships with shared mobility providers to take advantage of emerging carpooling, vanpool and transit services”
Bay Bridge Forward promises to better capitalize on underutilized low-cost transportation resources. Casual carpool, for example, has quietly transported thousands of commuters across the bridge each day despite little institutional support – it lacks an “official” website, and the first Google search results returns a website that looks straight out of 1995. There’s been little effort for education and encouragement other than word of mouth, and the rider-driver balance has become increasingly skewed at some locations as rider demand exceeds driver supply. Publicizing automated carpooling apps such as Scoop, Carma, and Lyft Carpool also offers significant upside at no cost.
Expanding and optimizing Transbay bus and ferry service similarly presents opportunities for additional capacity. Over the past three years, AC Transit’s Transbay service has experienced a 20% increase in ridership, while Transbay ferry ridership has increased about 40 percent. However, these services remain less robust than they could be. The limited frequency and span of service along most Transbay bus and ferry routes hampers their ability to effectively compete with (and complement) BART service; increased service could yield tremendous benefits. Moreover, providing an HOV entry at Grand Avenue could help reduce travel times to the toll plaza for both buses and carpools.
While more robust improvements to Transbay capacity such as modernizing BART’s infrastructure and vehicles, a contraflow bus lane, or a second Transbay Tube is still several years away, Bay Bridge Forward is certainly a good start.