How Uber and Oakland are changing BART

Embarcaderoing on a data journey

Thanks for joining me for the fifth issue of the Golden Stats Warrior, a newsletter for data-based insights about the Bay Area. If this is your first time reading, welcome! If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do that here. I have been loving the feedback so far, and am eager to hear what else you would like me to write about.

I take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) nearly every day. I am not unusual. Although many people complain about the system, it has risen in popularity over the last several decades. An average of a little over 414,000 trips were made each weekday in 2018, up from only about 300,000 in 2000. The emergence of new stations accounts for only a small part of that rise.

Besides this overall increase, much else has changed in how people use the system, and we can see it in the data. BART offers incredibly detailed information on ridership. It is possible to know, by hour of the day, how many people made a trip between each pair of stations. For example, we know that from 3 pm to 4 pm on December 1st, 2017, 15 people exited 19th Street station in Oakland who started their journey at 16th Street station in San Francisco. This detailed data goes back to January 2011.

I am not a BART expert, or even particularly knowledgeable about Bay Area transport issues. I’ve found a number of interesting trends, but I also need your help. If the spirit moves you, please send me any theories you have. I will try to look into as many as I can, and will present what I find in the next issue.

For now, here are three ways BART is changing, along with my theories and questions about what is happening.

Trend one: The rise of Oakland

Theory: As a relatively new transplant to downtown Oakland myself, and regular BART user, you are reading part of the explanation. Although Oakland’s overall population growth has been modest since 2000, growing from 400,000 to 430,000, the number of people getting off at 19th Street station rose by 75%. Most of the increase happened just from 2012 to 2018. This probably represents the emphasis Oakland has put on developing Uptown as a business and residential area. One of the very fastest rising trips over the last several years has been people riding from the San Francisco Airport to West Oakland, which may be a result of that areas changing demographics.

Questions: Could the issue be more a supply issue than a demand one? BART may have started to run more cars over the Bay, making it more reasonable for commuters. It’s hard to tell this from the data I have collected.

Trend 2: Are Uber and Lyft keeping down short rides?

Theory: Uber and Lyft have revolutionized regional transit. The share of people hailing a ride for short trips skyrocketed in the 2010s. For a story I wrote for Quartz, I looked at the number of people who drive a taxi for a living, and it has tripled over the last decade, with the increase even larger in places like the Bay Area.

It has also changed decisions about whether to take public transit. In some cases, it might actually make someone more likely to take BART. Instead of driving, Uber is a cheap and convenient option to get to the BART stop. In other cases it will make people less likely to use BART, instead of taking a short BART ride, they might take an Uber, given that it is not that much more expensive.

The data suggests that Uber is keeping short BART trip usage down. I looked at trips along the route from Daly City to Richmond, and found that while the overall number of trips increased by 9%, the share of one and two stop trips barely budged. (The vast majority of trips are seven stops or less.)

To make this a little more clear, we can look at trips from 16th Street in San Francisco. While trips from 16th Street to 19th Street in Oakland have risen by about 70% since 2011, trips from 16th Street to nearby 24th Street and Glen Park are declining.

Questions: Perhaps this change is a result of not just Uber and Lyft, but rather a rise in biking, scooting, and other alternative modes as the city makes the streets safer for those activities. It could also be that rising housing price could be forcing people to live further away from where they work, leading to few very short commutes. Or perhaps BART is focusing its service on being a commuter system, and running more trains at the times where people want to make longer trips—which leads me to my last finding.

Trend 3: Rush hour is getting more rushed

Theory: The chart above demonstrates that an increasing share of BART riders are traveling from 7-10 am and 4-7 pm. Its increased from about 53% in 2015 to 57% in 2019. I think this is probably a result of a strong job market, and an increasing number of people living far away from downtown San Francisco and Oakland, in order to get a little more space for their money.

Questions: Again, this could also simply be a result BART running more cars at these times. I don’t have a ton to say about this one :)

One last table: If you want to see the commonality of your commute, you can search a table I made of the most common BART trips at this link. A static version of the table, which shows the ten most common trips is below.

Bay Area media recommendation of the week

If you are interested in East Bay history, boy do I have the podcast for you. East Bay Yesterday, hosted with a refreshing earnestness by Liam Donohughe, started in 2016 and now has 55 episodes. Most shows are deeply researched descriptions of events in East Bay history, and there are some Q&As with local figures. There is a terrific episode the history of Lake Merritt and Fairyland. My favorite nugget was that a 2002 bill to improve the lake’s water quality passed with over 80% of the vote. People love the lake. I highly recommend listening to it while you take a walk around Oakland’s favorite tidal lagoon.

(If you read or listened to something great about the Bay Area this week, please send it to me!)

Dan’s favorite things

Each issue I also mention an activity I recommend for those living in the area.

There is no other place in the Bay Area that brings me as much serenity as Oakland’s Chapel of Chimes. Built in 1909 and redesigned by Julia Morgan, the architect of the Heart Castle and many of Berkeley’s most famous buildings, the chapel is not only a church but also a columbarium (a word I did not know, which means a place that holds cremated remains). It is open the public, and wonderful place to explore and get lost. Some sections are solemn and others are kitschy. It’s a calming place to consider the role of death in our lives.

Thanks for your time, and see you in a couple weeks.

If you think a friend might enjoy this newsletter, please forward it along. You can follow me on Twitter at @dkopf or email me at

The Golden Stats Warrior logo was made by the great Jared Joiner, the best friend a nervous newsletter writer could have. Follow him @jnjoiner. Also, thanks to the brilliant and supportive Natalie Nava for copyediting.