The long slog to the South Bay
Last week’s news that VTA may get BART to the South Bay as early as 2016 was certainly welcome, though many important steps remain. In the spring, federal New Starts funding has to materialize for the extension to move forward. Fortunately, the fact that work is already underway on the separate-but-linked Warm Springs extension should help the Silicon Valley extension’s case. As we’ve discussed previously, the South Bay extension has been split into two parts to help its chances of getting funding for the entire project. As a result, the first part extension to Berryessa (the flea market) is scheduled to be completed by 2016-2018. The second part, which runs through downtown San Jose and up to the airport, has no completion date at this time. FYI, Phase 1 is about the same length as the Dublin/Pleasanton extension from Bay Fair.
Terminating BART in Berryessa leaves no clear solution for ferrying fans from BART to the Diridon Station area, where the ballpark would be. Any highway-based bus routing is circuitous. Running on city streets would be a shorter trip. Either way it’s at least an extra 20 minutes after leaving BART even if it’s a direct bus with no additional stops. A natural BART-to-light rail transfer in Milpitas would take 40 minutes, though it would shave off a few minutes of BART time. Keep that in mind when looking at the following table of travel times, comparing BART, Caltrain, and Capitol Corridor.
What would take a shuttle 20-40 minutes to bridge the gap between Berryessa and Diridon would probably take only 5-6 minutes if BART went all the way to Diridon. Alas, that’s not in the cards until several years after Phase 1 starts operation. One interesting observation is that Capitol Corridor is somewhat competitive timewise with BART when heading all the way down to San Jose. Unfortunately, fares are much more expensive than BART.
There’s never been a doubt that just about any Oakland site is more convenient for much of the Bay Area and the existing East Bay fan base than San Jose. Even with BART coming to San Jose, it would seem that trips averaging an hour or more plus a transfer would be prohibitively lengthy for many fans. The flipside to that argument is that both the Giants and A’s in their current locations aren’t all that accessible from the South Bay, so if MLB were to place the two teams so that they could grab the largest potential audience for the MLB product, having the Giants in SF and the A’s in SJ would make the most sense.
Even if A’s management were to earn back much of the goodwill lost over the last decade, long trips from the East Bay will surely cause a reduction of fans from that region, making it all the more important that the A’s replace those lost or less frequently attending fans with South Bay fans. Certainly there are Sharks fans who make the trek from the East Bay now, but going to 2-3 games per week per homestand is a lot less rigorous than 6 games per week. The A’s have recently had among the lowest season ticket rolls in MLB (7-8,000), so replacing them may not be such a huge task. It goes to show that even if the A’s get the green light for San Jose, there’s plenty of work left to do.