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Amtrak Non Grata at Transit Center

1:48 PM PST on January 17, 2020

Amtrak passengers traveling to or from San Francisco in today's rain showers are probably all wet.

That's because Amtrak's buses don't go into San Francisco's shiny new $2 billion Salesforce Transit Center, with its covered bus deck and rooftop park. Instead, they're shunted to a stop outside the building on the street.

Riyad Ghannam, a frequent Amtrak rider who wrote to Streetsblog about the issue, describes the experience of riding an Amtrak bus into San Francisco:

On my first trip from Emeryville train station to SF... I was excited to enter SF with stateliness by way of the gleaming new monument to the future of our Bay Area Transit System, The Salesforce Transit Center. As we approached the Fremont Street exit I was expecting to be whisked out of traffic and over the new, bus only cable stayed bridge that is the gateway to the terminal. My excitement turned to confusion and eventually disgust as we passed the bus lane to the transit center, only to be shuffled into the frey and congestion of the city streets. The bus endured stop and go traffic, belching diesel exhaust as it crawled toward its eventual terminus on the corner of Mission and Fremont Streets. This torturous route not only denied all onboard the dignity of the new terminal, but also added 15 minutes to the commute.

Welcome to a corner next to the new $2 billion transit center. Doesn't it look nice from here? Photo: Amtrak
Welcome to a corner next to the new $2 billion transit center. Doesn't it look nice from here? Photo: Amtrak
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For those who aren't familiar with how Amtrak operates in the Bay Area, trains service Oakland and Emeryville on the east side of the Bay, but not San Francisco itself. To reach the city, passengers are shuttled across the Bay Bridge on Amtrak buses (there's also a BART transfer station from Amtrak at Richmond, but the BART fare is not included in the price of the ticket and schedules are not coordinated).

Advocate Parker Day, another frequent Amtrak rider, complained about the situation and received the following response from David Lipari, a Marketing Manager for Amtrak's Central Valley to Oakland service:

As the Salesforce Transit Center was nearing completion and through the time since its initial opening San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) [the state agencies that fund Amtrak's service to the Central Valley, San Jose and Sacramento], and Amtrak have all been hard at work to negotiate a contract to lease space within the Transit Center. These efforts were hard fought, and we all hoped we could come to an agreement. This can be seen in our extended stay at the “Temporary Terminal” even beyond the initial opening of the Transit Center and continuing through current operations of the Transit Center. Recently, it became clear that these negotiations were not going to be successful in providing a space for our Thruway Service at a fair, reasonable, and predictable price.

The bus deck of the Salesforce Transit Center back in 2018, shortly before it opened. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The bus deck of the Salesforce Transit Center back in 2018, shortly before it opened. No Amtrak buses allowed. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
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However, in a phone interview with Streetsblog, Robert Padgette, Managing Director of Amtrak's Capitol Corridor service between Sacramento and San Jose, made it sound as if Amtrak doesn't actually want to run buses into the center. "We looked at where passengers are headed and a lot go more towards the Financial District," he said, explaining that "Transbay is designed for in and out of, but we have multiple stops." The problem is if a bus enters the building's third-floor deck directly from the bridge, there's no real way for it to get to street level to serve additional stops.

Rail advocates, however, weren't having it.

"It's totally unacceptable that Amtrak doesn't have a home at the Saleforce Transit Center and that its buses are forced onto the streets to an un-staffed, curbside station like it was a cut-rate private bus company," wrote Dennis Lytton, with the Rail Passengers Association and a consultant on rail operations in an email to Streetsblog. "The train-riding public should not bear the cost of Transbay Joint Power Authority's (JPA) failure to complete and operate Salesforce Transit Center in a cost-effective or timely manner. Passengers are collateral damage from their inability to come to reasonable terms with the other JPAs and Amtrak, who underwrite and operate the heavily utilized corridor and interstate services to which Amtrak buses are linked," added Matthew Melzer, also with the Rail Passengers Association.

Streetsblog has a request into Transbay management for their take and will update this post accordingly.

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