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Reimagining Transit: A New Schedule That’s Bringing People Back to Public Transit

Discover the strategic ingenuity behind Bay Area Rapid Transit’s new schedule to increase ridership and help people move.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) recently brought into action its “reimagined” service plan.

From September 11, the agency has promised its riders that they no longer need to wait more than 20 minutes for a scheduled train. This shift in schedule comes to attract riders who have stayed away from the system because of the 30-minute wait times.

The agency has also increased its evening services by 50%, which now run seven days a week, meaning riders have more options when traveling with BART after peak hours and at the weekend.

In one of BARTs latest podcasts about the changes, John FitzGibbon, Manager of Scheduling and Planning at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), also known as the scheduling wizard, summarized the changes by stating

“BART now has a simpler schedule that’s the same seven days a week. No matter what day of the week it is, or the time of day, riders are going to be able to get their train. That in and of itself I think is going to simplify a lot of people’s lives”.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train lines map
Map of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train lines. Source: BART

The Creation of a Simpler Schedule with Prolonged & Weekend Services

The new service plan came in response to post-pandemic commute patterns where the agency wasn’t seeing the typical rush-hour peak of commuters heading to the workplace.

The agency reduced some of these services to distribute the resources elsewhere, namely to increase evening and weekend services on almost every line that is neutral in cost and to seek new ridership growth opportunities.

Bay area train

“The post-pandemic ridership reality is that there just isn't the level of peak that there has been over the course of most of BART's life. So, the schedule is much flatter and less reliant because of all the things that are happening socially. Building a schedule that is looking at the places where there's room for growth in the evenings and on the weekends was a way forward.

Having weekend service be as important as weekday service is a real kind of new way that BART is changing our service in the wake of the pandemic and with commute service perhaps not being quite as high priority at the expense of other things”.

In addition to increased evening and weekend services, BART has sharpened the synchronization of its lines that have shared trains to improve transfers.

For example, riders anywhere between Bay Fair and Berryessa can get a Green line, or alternatively, an Orange line and then transfer to the Blue line, to get to the City. Either way, the entire length of the network has a 10-minute schedule to the City.

Bay area train at the station

Improved line synchronization will also help reduce crowding on board the agency’s trains. The Red Line that runs from Richmond to MacArthur was previously much more crowded than the parallel Orange Line that runs through the same stops. Having better synchronization allows the ridership across these lines to spread more evenly, ultimately reducing crowding.

The Benefits of Better Headways

While the agency has unlocked the new 10-minute headways, other lines have been set at 20 minutes. Naturally, the multiplication factor of 10 and 20-minute (rather than the previous 15 and 30) headways allows the lines to work in synchrony. However, there are other benefits in having a 20-minute headway.

So when a train arrives at its terminal, the operator is able to get a well-deserved break after being on the train for an extended period of time, before departing for their next trip.

“This will vastly improve our breaks for our employees, and it was designed to be, or one of the outcomes of the project was to make the quality-of-life improvements around that area.”

Train station with people waiting

The 20-minute headway also provides more of a cushion for trains arriving a couple of minutes late, allowing them to leave on-time while also allowing the operator to have a short break.

This also benefits the control room that is working hard to ensure the trains are punctual. Thanks to the shift in resources in the new service plan, the control room is now managing 55 trains rather than the previous 59 which, together with the adjusted headways, has simplified their responsibilities.

University Transportation and BART

Sengerio caught up with David Sorrell, Principal Mobility Planner/ TDM Administrator of the University of California, Berkeley, who is leading the university’s way to render on-campus mobility more equitable, accessible, and sustainable, to ask how BARTs reimagined service plan has affected mobility for those who study and work at the university and, of course, how the changes have affected him as a user of BART.

“We need people to get home as quickly and efficiently as possible. With transit use being lower than it was before the pandemic, the previous model of using a 30-minute headway was putting a lot of people off using the service, people simply don’t want to wait 30 minutes; if you missed the train, you’re most likely going to drive! So the switch to 20-minute headways is a good decision in terms of decision-making”.

The additional services, moreover, are going to be especially helpful for the students on campus who want to make it to sports events, concerts, and other events in the evening or at the weekend.

Berkeley university
University of California, Berkeley campus

David also mentioned that while BART’s reimagined schedule does provide numerous benefits to the agency and its riders, it does somewhat limit what Caltrain, the commuter rail line serving the San Francisco Peninsula and Santa Clara Valley, can do in terms of network connections.

Missed transfers are a big problem for agencies and passengers across the Bay Area and the 20-minute headway might be somewhat of a challenge for some of the bus services of the surrounding agencies. However, David pointed out that agencies could use this as an opportunity to better their own services in line with BART’s new schedule.

“Transit services are only as good as their first and last mile connections. So a lot of the local bus services that connect with BART should look at their schedules to identify any blind spots and make adjustments so that the users’ waiting time is minimized”.

In general, however, the advantages of the reimagined service plan allow BART and its riders to look ahead with optimism, as David highlighted

“I’m looking forward to seeing whether the new reimagined schedule supports commuters coming to and from the university but, at the same time, whether it can also support the late afternoon, evening, and weekend trips to help boost ridership”.

The Future of BART and its Reimagined Schedule

While Caltrain’s electrification project is underway, BART is also undergoing its own Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) revamp that is part of a broader Transbay Corridor Core Capacity Program.

Due to the nature of such an investment, however, BART’s schedule sometimes coincides with the CBTC project. As John FitzGibbon points out

“In some cases we actually have to build a schedule around the capital project itself.

There's a chance that we're going to have to do some major schedule rebuilding on the Blue Line between Bay Fair and Dublin in one direction because that section of track at BART is the longest, straightest section that we have that we can use as an alternate test track for doing a lot of the tests that need to happen”.

While the ongoing CBTC project could pose some future challenges for BART, once completed, the new signaling system will drastically improve and simplify the agency’s system — contrary to the many constraints of the current system, the revamped CBTC signaling will allow more freedom for the agency to put its trains closer together, even at higher speeds.

“Once all these capital projects are finished, the BART schedule will become very static, which is a good thing for our customers”.


The work of John FitzGibbon and the team at BART reflect the powerful nature scheduling has when it comes to influencing ridership and accessibility to transit.

Indeed, BART seemingly has “cracked the code” in finding a combination of resources and services to bring several advantages — not only for the riders — but also to alleviate some of the pressure from the operational side.

Firstly, it will be interesting to see whether the new schedule is able to support both commuters and evening/weekend services. Despite teleworking being a useful TDM commodity during the pandemic, work patterns may still be unpredictable. Consequently, it could be difficult to rule out an eventual spike in commuters needing a ride to the office. On the other hand, time will tell how effective the additional services are during the evenings and at the weekends, which the agency is hoping to elevate its ridership.

On top of that, riders might be curious to see how well the new schedule holds up, or how well the agency reacts, in light of the ongoing CBTC project and how much disruption this project may cause.

Finally, how might surrounding transit agencies such as Caltrain and AC Transit react to the new schedule? This article mentioned that some transfers between BART and Caltrain have seen a shift in waiting times because of the schedule changes. Perhaps Caltrain could see these changes as an opportunity to rework its own schedule to increase ridership.

Scott Frankland

Scott Frankland is Head of Content at Sengerio. His spirit of inquiry leads him to the world of transportation and mobility to connect with the industry’s leading experts and shine a light on the hot topics.

Edoardo Zaccaria

Edoardo is the Sengerio Customer Success Manager and a passionate climber. His interpersonal skills and ability to build strong relationships have been invaluable in helping customers successfully get the most out of the Sengerio platform.