After years of disappointing ridership, BART's extension to San Francisco International Airport saw its best ridership ever during Christmas week, the transit agency announced Tuesday.
Nearly 52,000 riders exited or entered BART from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27, a 4.5 percent increase over the same period in 2005 and 29 percent higher than the airport station's first Christmas in 2003.
BART board member Tom Radulovich pointed out that connecting BART to the airport has always been successful. Attracting daily commuters is another story.
"It certainly is good news that the airport station is bringing more riders," he said. But the extension's terminus at Millbrae, which was supposed to provide half the extension's ridership, "is the one that has been dragging the extension down."
Currently, the extension into San Mateo County, which is not part of the special taxation district that created the transit system, operates at a loss and requires a subsidy for about a fourth of its operating expenses. San Mateo County officials bought into the BART system relying on estimates that showed an operating profit.
While airport travelers have steadily warmed to the idea of "flying BART to SFO," as the system's ads encourage, commuters do not transfer from Caltrain's commuter rail service or leave their cars behind at nearly the numbers predicted.
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