BART workers have been holding San Francisco hostage. Couldn’t San Francisco just automate BART?
During last summer’s BART strike, a few outspoken Silicon Valley technologists incurred the wrath of the civil libertarian press for suggesting that San Francisco should simply automate the train operators and be done with the labor mess. Rather than join the techies vs. worker rage fest, I decided to simply ask the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) authority if it was technically possible to automate train drivers, just like Paris and other cities have done around the world.
Our own Congress has proposed fully automated trains for the U.S. by 2015. But in San Francisco, the home of the robotic car, the silence is deafening.
So I decided to take BART up on its suggestion and ask around. I was surprised at how many people feared talking about the subject, but most of the experts who would speak said that it is definitely possible to automate BART and might be cheaper and safer, too.
BART will shell out $400 million in labor costs for the $1.6 billion transit system, which pays train operators some of the highest wages in the country ($66,000 – $74,000 a year). More specifically, there are roughly 500 unionized train operators and station attendants, averaging $92,156 a year, with benefits. Automation never fully replaces every worker, but BART would save a maximum of around $46,078,000 per year in labor costs — or more, if it ends up increasing the number of trains from 669 to 1,000.
Though Rubin says automation could cost tens of millions of dollars, ultimately it would save the city a lot of money. Siemens (which has a vested interest in automation) also concurred that automation saves cities money. Lastly, a spokesman from the International Association of Public Transport noted that metro automation typically saves 15 percent, but he couldn’t comment on BART.
We should emphasize that these numbers are ballpark and unverified since, again, BART has apparently never bothered to ask.
Notice how automation gets attacked by “civil libertarians”. (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)