It’s Like Metro, With Charm

Photo courtesy of
‘BART in San Francico’
courtesy of ‘Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ’

They say that no two subways are alike. Wait, that’s snowflakes, but it’s mostly true for transit systems as well. If you look at the Metro and BART on scaled maps, for comparison, they’re fairly similar in size. More so, due to the concurrent construction dates, they use similar cars and similar farecards and fare structures. But, BART’s got it over WMATA in a few ways:

No carpet on the floors. They use a skidproof flooring on all their cars, so when you hop on a train car, you’re not greeted with the delightful smell of carpet mold. While Metro’s experimenting with a non-carpet floor, it’s going to be a while before we see it.

Audible Train Speakers. You never have to guess at what’s being said on a BART car. The drivers not only repeat themselves, they have powerful speakers in each car, which will cut through even the ubiquitous headphones.

Well Lit Stations. Even the underground stations of BART are much better lit than the cavernous and dark Metro stations.

Better WEE-Z Bond System. Yes, BART shares the same train presence indication system, but due to their finding the WEE-Z Bond problem in the 80s, they managed a system built around never losing trains. Why Metro didn’t follow? No idea.

10 Car Trains

Sure, they don’t run all the time, but the flexibility to have 10-car trains in the busiest time of day is pretty awesome.

It’s not all puppies and flowers on BART, though, here’s a few ups that WMATA still has:

Where’s My Smartrip?!

Municipal Transit in SF works on a totally different ticketing system as BART, which means that the buses and streetcars and trams are on a totally different fare system than BART. They’re working on it, but it’s a giant pain in the ass.

Okay, yeah, it’s still a subway

Given SF’s problem with transient population, it’s still pretty rough in places, with smells that are…well…fragrant.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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14 thoughts on “It’s Like Metro, With Charm

  1. I’ve never taken the SF subway, but the system appears even more sprawled out than DC, which to me is a pretty big weakness.

  2. Well, take into account they have a large body of water in the dead center of the map, Jamie, and things might get a bit different :)

  3. Bart also runs on a regular schedule which is more or less reliable down to the minute.

    Bart platforms are marked to show where the doors will be when the train stops and this is actually where the trains stop pretty much every single time. (WMATA would probably claim this technology is impossible to develop).

    Bart is also governed by a board that has real power and real oversight.

    I doubt that has anything to do with how well it operates though.

  4. Last summer when I vacationed in California, I had the pleasure of riding the Bart to San Francisco. I noticed their railcars seem to be more roomier. They had carpet then. They only have two sets of doors rather than three and the door between cars are slide open, so you can walk through. You can’t do that on the WMATA. As you said above they have nice features, if only WMATA were more like them.

  5. yet another unresearched post.

    Most BART cars have both carpet and mold. In 2008 they began a project to remove the carpet from about half the cars in their system but due to funding cuts, only 1/3 have been revamped.

    Their trains may run on time–but they also run much less frequently. Even during rush hour, many lines only run 25 minutes apart or more. If you are regular passenger commuting on the Richmond line for instance, your morning routine will be much like suburban commuter train passengers–rushing to get catch ‘your’ train, because if you miss it, you’ll be a half hour late for work or more.

    And one really really unfortunate thing: All the lines merge into a single line under the bay. Imagine being stuck in a tunnel underneath an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, in the earthquake capitol of the world, for 45 minutes to an hour because someone had heart palpitations on the platform at embarcadero, or a train experienced mechanical failure. And that happens a lot. Perhaps once a week or at least once every two weeks.

  6. Hey, don’t assume the grass is greener…yes, BART is nice, but if you travel to SF enough, you’ll realize that the trains run on 20 minute schedules. Period. See how long that would last here.

    Also, for people that like to move through space at a pace faster than “casual,” you’ll notice that everything is slower, the doors even stay open longer.

    We wish Metro the best and it’s another reason we still love DC.

  7. @stace & @Ted:

    While Trains run on the 15 minute schedule, for most branches there are two lines (like the hypothetical Richmond -> Montgomery run), and they run alternating, which means once per 7 minutes, or about as often as any single branch on the Metro. With timed transfers at the transfer stations, you can still make it from the burbs to downtown about the same time as the metro.

    As for the earthquake issue, after the Loma Prieta quake in 89, BART was up and running transbay before midnight that night, so if it’s going to survive a heavy duty quake like what wrecked the cypress structure, it’s going to be fine.

    I still think Metro’s a good transit system, I just think there’s a lot they could do to make life better on the system.

  8. This post seems very skewed and not well-researched to me. I ride the Metro to work everyday, and half of the points you cited as things BART does better sound worse to me.

    For example, I believe Metro experimented with putting more/brighter light in the stations, and if I remember correctly, everyone hated it.

    And I have a hard time believing there are only two downsides to BART.

  9. Stace:

    BART’s 20 minute intervals are not the best. But the simple fact that it runs on time means that the system is running smoothly and predictably. Metro never does this. Instead ever trips meets some combination of malfunctioning doors, smoking brakes, haywire switches, tunnel fires, sick passengers, bunched up trains, trains out of service, single tracking, etc. etc.

    I wonder if being stuck on bart under the bay is anything like being stuck on metro under the Potomac every single time I take the orange, blue, or yellow lines?

  10. It doesn’t just seem roomier, it is roomier.

    BART’s tracks are wider than Metro’s. Metro was built to the standard railroad gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches between the rails. BART’s cars are wider.

  11. Well, on the most basic measure of a transit system’s succes and value — how many people actually use it — Metro WAY outperforms BART. The two systems are almost exactly the same lenght: 209 route miles for BART versus 211.8 for Metro. But in 2007 riders took 276 million rides on Metro, more than twice, indeed nearly three times, the 109 trips taken on BART that same year.

  12. Simply the predictability of the BART system makes it more rider-friendly than WMATA. How many times I have been on a platform here in DC with a sign not saying when the next train is, I cannot count.

  13. BART stinks and has been largely a failure compared to its big brother, Metro. Bart is a commuter system without significant TOD. FAIL

  14. @Prof Baracus: If you’re getting stuck under the Potomac on the Yellow line, I daresay you’re in more serious trouble than you think…considering the Yellow goes OVER the Potomac…