Good luck coming home: The Bay Area arts can’t recover without late night public transportation

Runners wait for their train at the Montgomery Street BART station in San Francisco. Photo: Nick Otto / Special for The Chronicle

If you are a transit user and a fan of the theater, you know exactly how it goes.

There you are, leaving a show at around 10pm. You rush to the nearest train station or stop. You are looking for the next arrival times, more fearful than optimistic. Alas, that’s it: 30 minutes until the arrival of your bus or train. And that’s without counting delays, missed transfers or ghost buses.

This has long been the case with nighttime public transport in the Bay Area. And it only got worse at the start of the pandemic, as besieged transit systems across the region cut service, especially at night.

A Muni stop at 16th and Mission streets. Muni’s regular service ends after 10 p.m., when it activates its barebone Owl service: fewer bus lines and longer wait times. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

Access to public transport is above all a climate issue and a social justice issue, and essential workers of all stripes depend on its availability outside of the 9 to 5 hour shifts. But public transit also deeply affects the arts, and for too long now we’ve enabled a region with first-class artists – a region that is defined in part by its artists – to make its art so physically inaccessible.

Now, as Bay Area officials love to tout the performing arts as essential to recovery from a pandemic, their policies and investments in public transportation need to live up to their words. As it becomes safer to congregate indoors, theaters will need all the help they can get. Apparently San Francisco can afford to free parking near Union Square during the holiday season, but we couldn’t find the resources to get people to take public transit to the same destination?

Actor Tasi Alabastro (right) stars in “Twelfth Night” at the San Francisco Playhouse. Its transit journey back to San José can take from an hour and 40 minutes to over two hours. Photo: Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Theater House

San José actor Tasi Alabastro, who currently stars in San Francisco Playhouse’s “Twelfth Night”, knows about wrestling. If he misses his Caltrain home from the Union Square theater, he adds another 30 minutes to a ride that is already an hour and 40 minutes long. (And that’s after Caltrain, bucking the trend for the region’s transit systems, added more night trips during the pandemic.)

The exponential increase in the time spent in public transport becomes a kind of puzzle, ”he said.

Amanda Farbstein (left), Amanda Le Nguyen, Tiana Paulding and Tasi Alabastro in “Twelfth Night” at the San Francisco Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli / San Francisco Theater House

Alabastro agrees not to have a car. During his time living in Milpitas and working at the box office of TheatreWorks, which was based in Menlo Park at the time, he estimates that he took four public transport lines – bus, streetcar, Caltrain, bus – for 2 and a half hours, at a cost of about $ 20 one way.

“I totally normalized it. I got up early, “he recalls. But later, as he worked for the former San Jose rep and could walk to work in 20 minutes, he questioned his sanity. on his previous ride. “Why did I do this?” He asked.

Alabastro has to plan every trip he takes well in advance, but he doesn’t have to worry about the price of gas, parking, or carjacking. He spends his train journeys daydreaming, people-watching, resting, promoting his art on social media and standing in lines, sometimes getting to know the drivers. But when he’s honest with himself, he knows his worry about taking the train can interfere with his acting work.

Sometimes, just before the end of a rehearsal or a performance, I already say to myself: “How am I going to get to the station? What is connecting? When I really shouldn’t be thinking about it. I should be present.

For artists and less engaged audiences, it may seem like our region’s transit system is telling them to give up and drive a car.

Chris Arvin, member of the SFMTA Citizen Advisory Council, leads 33 Ashbury from Muni to San Francisco. Photo credit: Léa Suzuki / La Chronique

San Francisco transit advocate and SFMTA Citizen Advisory Council member Chris Arvin, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said a truly transit-oriented city would prioritize transit , whatever the hour.

“Someone should be able to get around the city very easily, without having to have a car or take an Uber, Lyft or cab, at any time of the day,” they said.

Arvin pointed out that with BART shutting down after midnight gives the system its only chance to perform maintenance on the Transbay tube, and acknowledged, “If you only get a certain number of people at night, you don’t. don’t want to have too many buses and exhaust your resources.

Chris Arvin, a member of the SFMTA’s Citizen Advisory Council, boards an F Market train in San Francisco. Photo credit: Léa Suzuki / La Chronique

“But the problem is,” Arvin continued, “when an agency limits its resources based on demand, it hurts the people who are in fact still riding. It’s not like they’re cutting back on the bus. This means that the waiting time for a bus is reduced from 10 minutes to 30 minutes.

To show how much it costs in time and money to get home late from shows on public transport, I looked at five opening nights I attended across the region in the second half of 2021. From my reviews, I had data on each show’s runtime. From there, I used a variety of trip planners to calculate when I would return to The Chronicle building on Fifth and Mission streets.

I compared the cost round trip by public transport versus a car for two people, as many theater clients attend with companions. I assumed transit passengers used Clipper and for drivers a mileage rate of $ 0.56 and FasTrak and two axles for tolls. I also assumed free parking, which is only a stretch to Berkeley Rep.

Return arrival times at The Chronicle reflect the curtain hours of the various theaters (some start at 7:30 p.m.; others at 8:00 p.m.); they also indicate whether the opening evenings were on weekdays or weekends (which have different transit times) and waiting times, both before the arrival of the first transit and for transfers ( in the case of TheatreWorks, Marin Theater Company and Presidio Theater).

The results will not surprise even the occasional user of public transport. Still, some data points stand out. The California Shakespeare Theater operates its own free shuttle service to BART. To take transit from TheatreWorks’ “Lizard Boy” to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, a passenger must first wait nearly an hour for Caltrain after the show’s callback at 9:50 pm. Take buses to “Georgiana” and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley ”from the Marin Theater Company and“ The Magic Lamp ”from the Presidio Theater cost more than driving – in the latter case, more than double.

Also with “The Magic Lamp”, the last ride of the free Presidigo shuttle starts at 6 p.m., so you need to walk 1 mile out of the Presidio first. The Presidio Theater website encourages the public to use Presidigo without this warning; he also incorrectly recommends a San Francisco Muni line (43) which currently does not stop nearby. The actual transit ride takes over an hour to cover less than 5 miles – the pace of a jog.

Some Muni routes are expected to return in March, Arvin noted, and more in June. “But the night service on the brought back roads will not work after 10 pm,” they said. Complete restoration is not yet on the calendar.

This is unacceptable. The time has come for visionary leadership within our transit agencies and government. Bay Area actors dig into their souls to take audiences on a journey every night. It shouldn’t take us an epic, expensive trip to the theater.




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