For the second time in three and a half months, BART workers walked off the job at midnight Thursday, leaving 400,000 commuters scrambling for a ride to work.
And for the second time since the July strike, commuters turned to the ridesharing industry for their Friday morning commute.
By shortly after 9 a.m., ride requests for Sidecar, a service offering rides from community drivers through a mobile app, were up 60 percent over a normal Friday morning, and the number of first-time riders was about three times higher than normal, said spokeswoman Margaret Ryan. And many commuters heading for San Francisco International Airport early Friday said on Twitter that they had turned to Lyft, another mobile-based ride service, to get them there.
The BART strike timing was particularly brutal with Friday being one of the heaviest commuting days, when many residents head out of town.
The strike is also a boon for taxi-hailing apps that help passengers order a cab from their smartphone, rather than standing on the side of the street. Taxi Magic, which partners with Bay Area cab fleets to connect drivers with passengers using automated online ordering and payment systems, said demand for cabs was more than double a normal Friday morning commute.
Taxi Magic also just added more than 300 Yellow Cab taxis, the largest San Francisco fleet, to its network.
“This is fortuitous timing for us,” said marketing director Matt Carrington.
With the strike expected to last through the weekend, it’s also a major marketing opportunity for hire-a-car apps. Carrington said Taxi Magic created the promotion code “BARTFAIL2″ which riders can use for $10 off a ride all weekend. Lyft is offering similar discounts during the strike.
High-tech transit services became a popular alternative during the last BART strike. During that shutdown, ridesharing services jumped on social media to recruit more drivers to work during the strike and commuters to fill their cars.
With a painful weeklong prelude to the strike, during which commuters endured seven strike deadlines, alternative transit services had time to prepare. Already, the work seems to be paying off — Sidecar ridership already exceeds the first day of the July strike. Since then, however, the San Francisco-based company has also expanded to the East Bay and San Jose.
Sidecar is also fast-tracking hires, adding new drivers within 24 hours of their application – which raises questions about how thorough Sidecar’s background checks are.
“We’ve been prepping all week in anticipation of the strike,” Ryan said. “We also asked all of our East Bay drivers to turn on their driver app whenever they commute, so that they can help commuters get into and out of the city.”
By about 7 a.m., the line for the Bay Bridge toll plaza heading into the city was backed up about 13 miles.
The BART strike also underscores the growing divide between the Bay Area’s two-tier transportation system. The highly organized, publicly funded BART workers have opposed even some basic 21st century technology upgrades, according to several media reports. In negotiations, union leaders have objected to shifting from a paper-based reporting system to email, and rejected the proposal for electronic pay stubs to replace paper paychecks, arguing that many workers don’t have computers, according to news reports.
Meanwhile, the private sector ridesharing industry, which is not organized and propped up by funding from a range of angel investors and investment firms such as Google Ventures, was born out of tech innovation. No phone calls, no paper, no credit card swipes.
But rather than serve as an alternative to or competitor of BART, ridesharing and taxis are supposed to complement public transit services. Commuters who use taxis and ridesharing are more likely to take trains and buses than commuters who stick to their own vehicles, transportation experts say.
At a conference on urban transportation systems last week in San Francisco– the Shared-Use Mobility Summit — transit authorities discussed the importance of coordinating public transit with carpool and bike sharing programs, ridesharing companies and services such as Zipcar. Modern commuters don’t consider just one mode of transit to get around – they want access to all of it.
“We’re in a new era of transportation thinking,” Arthur Guzzetti, vice president of policy for the American Public Transportation Association, said at the conference. “We want to coordinate trips in real time. We don’t want to wait.”
But for commuters on Friday morning, there was a whole lot of waiting going on.
Photo Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group