Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Folks who don’t hail from the San Francisco Bay Area would be excused for not knowing that we have a rapid transit system. While not as mature or robust as Chicago’s El, or Boston’s MTA, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) over the course of the last 40 years has actually managed to span much (but not all) of the SF Bay Area.

BART is expected to serve community needs on a par with MTA sometime in the next five billion years, before the sun blows up or heck freezes over. BART recently added an extension of a few miles to serve SFO, our remarkable fair-weather international airport. The rail extension was rife with politics and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars a mile. BART officials recently clicked their collective tongues, noting plaintively that patronage of the new extension was not up to projections.

Enter Bob and Alex, Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Sunday morning.

America West flight 807 is one of two daily bread and butter flights from Phoenix to SFO, arriving at about 3PM each afternoon. We booked it as the last leg of an expensive $345 (each) last-minute round trip weekend. When we checked in at Phoenix’s Barry M. Goldwater Terminal 4, America West told us: ‘Thank you’, wait a minute, your flight’s been canceled, mechanical problem. Hmmm, we could get you in to SFO at 9:46PM.

No, they are not going to put a different plane into service. This flight is canceled, period. What of the other 128 or so passengers booked on the canceled Airbus 319? Who knows? Flight 809 departs three hours after flight 807, arriving around 6PM. It was already full.

But America West could get us into Oakland by 2PM. The only problem is that we were parked in a commercial lot on the SF side. We took it anyway, figuring we could learn how to take BART to SFO.

The flight to Oakland was great. It was smooth and on-time. We found a $2 AirBART shuttle bus to the Oakland Coliseum BART station. The BART ticket to SFO itself is an additional $5.65.

The Coliseum to San Francisco BART train arrived within 8 minutes. It had us in San Francisco in no time flat. You transfer to the SFO train at the Balboa Park station.

For security reasons, underground BART station restrooms are closed. I am thinking, thank goodness I used a vacant restroom on the plane.

The SFO BART didn’t arrive for another 49 minutes. We boarded at 502PM. Some diehard Oakland A’s fans also had joined us at Coliseum when the game ended. They were disgusted. They vowed never to use BART for the game again. No wonder!

Now get this. About three minutes out of Balboa Park, the train stops on the tracks. I explain to Bob that sometimes the computer does that to adjust spacing between the trains. But this time the train operator comes on the PA and politely explains there’s a malfunction. He will have to shut down the train and restart it. Sounds like a cold reboot.

The reboot didn’t work. He tries it again. Now we start crawling to the next station. The cars seem to be working fine now. The BART train actually doglegs into San Francisco International Airport! We can see planes at the terminals from the elevated rail here. Whee! What an adventure!

Now we transfer to the mini-airport-BART. This doesn’t work for everybody like the great rail shuttles in, say, Atlanta. It transfers only BART passengers from the big BART trains to the little BART train for the short ride to the respective international and domestic terminals. We want Domestic Terminal 1, and finally debark there. It is almost 6PM.

From Domestic Terminal 1 we traverse a seemingly endless succession of up escalators, down escalators, down elevators, moving walkways, and up escalators. It is like the Microsoft Windows screensaver ‘Pipeline’. if you are familiar with that Brownian-motion connectivity from points A to B and C through ZZ.

Finally, we are at someplace recognizable, inside the terminal near America West at SFO. It is 6PM. We walk out the entrance to the curbside blue and white zone where we wait for the familiar commercial Airport Parking shuttle. It arrives, and returns us to our car. We pay the $40 weekend parking fee, drive back across the San Mateo Bridge to the east Bay, and walk in the front door at 6:40PM.

Thanks to the cooperative efforts of America West and BART, we made an almost full circuit of the San Francisco Bay in about 5 hours. Door-to-door, this is almost 8 hours for a 1.5 hour flight!

At last: a new record! No wonder that folks don’t like the new BART airport service. And, secretly, I am vowing to investigate Southwest Airlines, which abandoned SFO for Oakland years ago.

683 total views, 1 views today