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AC Transit, Ferries Carry 22,000 Displaced BART Riders Thursday

BART announced it was halting service between Oakland and San Francisco due to a fire hours before the morning commute began.

When an early morning fire near the West Oakland BART station prompted a closure of the agency's Transbay Tube and threw commuters for a loop Thursday, other transit agencies stepped up their efforts.

According to Alameda Contra Costa Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson, the agency made 150 extra trips and carried 12,656 extra passengers between the East Bay and San Francisco hursday.

A representative for San Francisco Bay Ferry says it nearly quadrupled its usual weekday ridership, carrying 9,531 passengers on 46 round-trips as opposed to its average 2,500 passengers on 25 round-trips.

Agencies were operating on very short notice, as BART announced the service suspension just hours before the morning commute was to get under way.

The three-alarm fire was reported at 2:15 a.m. and burned for more than an hour at a construction site near the West Oakland station, spreading to nearby buildings, lampposts and elevated BART tracks, damaging the protective covering on BART's electrified third rail.

Although BART originally considered providing a bus bridge, that plan was scrapped. Instead, AC Transit diverted buses from their normal transbay routes to stop at BART stations to pick up stranded riders.

"It was a tall order to first understand what needed to be done and then come up with a good strategy for doing it," AC Transit General Manager David Armijo said today.

To minimize boarding delays associated with the extra passengers, fares were not collected for transbay riders, according to AC Transit.

However, BART tickets were honored on the system for trips to San Francisco. On the water, San Francisco Bay Ferry deployed four additional ferries on two of its three routes and added an unscheduled run between AT&T Park and Oakland to accommodate San Francisco Giants fans attending Thursday's day game.

Nina Rannells, executive director of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which operates the ferry, said the agency took action swiftly after receiving word of the shutdown.

"As yesterday illustrated, a robust passenger ferry system plays a critical role in the event of a Bay Area transportation emergency," Rannells said.

-- Bay City News Service

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