Hundreds of thousands of commuters sat mired in traffic or stood in lengthy lines for Bay Bridge bus service Thursday after a four-alarm fire in Oakland damaged nearby BART facilities, forcing an 11-hour shutdown of the train operator’s Transbay Tube.
The fire began just after 2 a.m. at a senior housing center under construction at Seventh Street and Mandela Parkway in Oakland. The flames warped a 400-foot section of train tracks near the West Oakland station, forcing BART to shut down underground service between the East Bay and San Francisco. Cross-bay service was finally restored at 3:45 p.m., and BART extended its late-night schedule one hour for trains between Fremont and Daly City.
Most of the passengers stranded by the BART shutdown hopped onto crowded AC Transit buses in the East Bay and San Francisco. AC Transit diverted about 20 buses from existing routes to handle the extra crowds, but long boarding lines still formed.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have 20 to 30 extra buses that we can use,” agency spokesman Clarence Johnson said.
“In a sense, routes from all over our district were pilfered a little bit so that we could get buses for Transbay service.”
To help cut down on the wait, AC Transit allowed passengers to board for free during the evening commute.
Other transit agencies pitched in, including the San Francisco Bay Ferry service, which added extra routes during the morning and evening commute and carried four times as many passengers as normal.
An additional 20 buses from transit agencies across the region were diverted to Oakland and San Francisco to help with service, said Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler. Luckily, the MTC was preparing for an emergency simulation event Thursday to prep for just such a situation. Instead of undergoing the simulation, the MTC coordinated with regional agencies to assist with Transbay service, Rentschler said.
While transit passengers experienced long lines and crowded vehicles, motorists who didn’t carpool crawled across the Bay Bridge during the morning commute. Traffic backed up for miles on the connecting highways in the East Bay, with the typical cross-bay commute lasting well over two hours, according to California Highway Patrol spokesman Officer Michael Ferguson. Motorists and passengers who participated in the Casual Carpool — the region’s informal ridesharing network — had much swifter commutes.
Traffic flowed as normal on the Golden Gate Bridge during the BART shutdown, although ridership levels increased for the district’s ferry service between Larkspur and San Francisco, spokeswoman Mary Currie said.
Regional transportation officials couldn’t estimate how many people were affected by the closure. About 55,000 BART passengers typically travel through the Transbay Tube during the morning commute. AC Transit carries 14,000 Transbay passengers a day, and roughly 280,000 motorists cross the Bay Bridge daily.