Weekend bridge closures in the last few years gave us a chance to experience BART the way we'd long envisioned it: as a 24-hour party line.
Ideally, all-night BART would essentially become an extension of San Francisco nightlife, we thought. People would take BART to after-parties and booty calls, passengers would fraternize and fall in love through the Transbay Tube.
Sadly, the idea of a 24-hour BART wasn't exactly what he had expected: It suffered from lackluster ridership and shoddy revenue, not to mention those all-nighters left the system with a hangover. Still, the experiment reinvigorated an old debate about transit scheduling, and who it should serve.
BART has long maintained that it needs a window to conduct track maintenance late at night, and that ending service later means opening later in the morning, which screws the people who have to get to work. Furthermore, the money recouped from late-night passengers doesn't cover the cost of keeping the trains running, as the bridge closure weekends illustrated. (All-night service during Labor Day weekend in 2006 generated a piddling $30,000.)
But there aren't viable alternatives for people trying to get home after hours. Most Muni don't run 24 hours, either; TransBay buses are infrequent; cab service is spotty; Muni's OWL lines aren't well publicized. In short, says Supervisor Scott Wiener -- who has fashioned himself into a late-night transit evangelist, of sorts -- people are left without options, when they're out at night, in a dark city.
That's why today Supervisor Wiener will introduce a resolution to the Board of Supervisors calling for a Late Night Transportation Working Group, which will have the hard task of turning San Francisco into a 24-hour commuter metropolis -- or at least developing a "comprehensive plan" to do so.
Wiener hopes this task force will bridge any rifts between the late-night partiers and early-morning workers -- which tends to be framed as a class divide. (He's invited both sides to the table.) He also hopes to include labor unions, nightlife advocates, and anyone who works a graveyard shift. San Francisco's Entertainment Commission and Office of Economic and Workforce Development will co-chair the group.
Arguing that nightlife is vital to a healthy economy, Wiener points out that it generates $4.2 billion annually and $50 million in city tax revenue, while employing more than 50,000 people. And it's certainly possible that people who don't traditionally fall in the nightlife category -- such as hospital workers with 24-hour shifts -- could also benefit from better nighttime transit.
What isn't clear, though, is how much can really be accomplished by setting up another task force. Transportation bleeds into many contentious debates about city resources; establishing a blue ribbon panel isn't synonymous with making actual progress.