Unfortunately, the most that will be happening this year is construction of an eBART transfer platform at the Bay Point BART Station.
The $500 million project was delayed and scaled back a couple years ago when Union Pacific Railroad refused to allow eBART trains to travel on its Mococo Line through far East County. Without access to an existing track, officials agreed that there was only enough funding to extend eBART 10 miles down the Highway 4 median from Bay Point BART to Antioch, with stations at Railroad and Hillcrest avenues.
It could take many years for eBART to reach Oakley, let alone Brentwood or Byron, unless hundreds of millions more transportation dollars are found – a tall order for a federal government mired $12.6 trillion in debt and California struggling with a $20 billion deficit.
But a private company has come forward offering to provide a better mass transit alternative that would reach Oakley, Brentwood, Byron and possibly Discovery Bay for the same cost as it would take to get eBART just to Antioch. CyberTran International officials have been making presentations to East County leaders touting an innovative system with smaller, lighter, electric-powered, computer-controlled cars that don’t need drivers.
The cars, which hold 24 passengers, can be accessed like an elevator: you push a button and go straight to your destination without stopping at stations along the way. And it promises to provide many more stations, perhaps one every mile or two. Because the cars are so much lighter (about one-tenth the weight of light rail), CyberTran’s construction cost could be as little as $25 million/mile, which is half the cost per mile of eBART and a fraction of the $200 million per mile of BART.
Officials from CyberTran, which is short for cybernetic transportation, brought their proposal to the East County transportation board Transplan a couple months ago, to the Antioch City Council on March 9 and to the Oakley City Council on Tuesday. They are seeking letters of support, and have already received a couple dozen from federal and state leaders as well as the city of Richmond, with which they are partnering to test and develop the technology.
The system has yet to be tried and proven in a real-world implementation. The company is looking to do a one-to-two-mile demonstration project with the help of federal funding, and plans to roll out a commercial system in about three years. “Somewhere in the Bay Area there will be a first system,” said Neil Sinclair, CEO and chairman of the board of CyberTran, which is based in Oakland. “Everyone wants to be second (after it’s been proven). There’s a real logjam in the way of innovation in this area (of transportation). Clearly the time has come for this. I think there are benefits for this region, for sure, that can come out of this.”
Some East County officials are receptive. “I thought it was rather intriguing,” said Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, who represents the city on Transplan. “Obviously, the door is open probably for any type of affordable transit that is possible. Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of details to be worked out on it, et cetera. But it could be a long time before we have BART out here, so it could be an alternative.”
Taylor said that at this point he sees CyberTran as more of an add-on to eBART rather than a replacement for it. “But you have to leave all doors open right now,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with economics, what are the pros and cons.”
Antioch Councilwoman Mary Rocha said, “It sounds very promising, and it sounds very good.”
On Tuesday night the Oakley City Council agreed to send a letter of support for the proposal.