One factor adding to the space crunch, BART officials say, is that 140,000 of the system's daily riders drive to the subway station. Others walk or take buses. While the agency recently added 12,000 spaces, they're still behind ridership growth--which has increased 24% over the last two years.
A BART ridership study forecasts that by 2030 a half-million people will commute on the line. And next fall, when BART extends its service to San Francisco International Airport, the first 70,000 of those new passengers are expected to join the subway-riding ranks.
Fearing air travelers will use BART lots as free airport parking, subway officials this week proposed reducing the time limit for parking at stations from 72 hours to 24 hours, providing new long-term pay-parking accommodations and increasing the parking fine from $25 to $100.
The Bay Area's envisioned giant ferry network could also be threatened by the lack of parking, officials fear. The new Bay Area Water Transit Authority sees a day in which 70 high-speed ferries crisscross the bay to about two dozen landings.
But where to park all the cars?
"We're already pressed to the gills," said Mark Akaba, public works director in Vallejo, which runs the Baylink ferry service.
Three years ago, Vallejo bought two high-speed ferries to offer commuter service to San Francisco. Now more than 3,000 people take the 11 round-trip runs each weekday, and the city is considering adding a third ferry.
The problem: The city's free waterfront parking lot holds only 700 cars.
Now officials are talking about erecting a huge ferry-transit terminal with a four-story structure for paid parking.
"Around here, when you considering building new parking spaces, the only way to go is up," said Akaba. "And people might balk at paying to park and then paying another $14 for a round-trip ferry ride. But things are going to change. They have to change."
Like Akaba, transportation experts say local officials have to rethink the way mass transit fits into the community framework.
Elizabeth Deakin, a professor of city planning at UC Berkeley, says officials need to devise more high-density communities--including housing, apartment and commercial development--around new transit stations.
They also need to promote public shuttles or paid subscription van services so commuters will consider them a viable alternative to turning on the car ignition. And more private companies should start shuttles to ferry people to and from the subway.
Said Deakin: "With mass transit, if too many people come by car, you're in trouble."
For now, parking supervisor Robinson's job will remain a daily grind.
On a recent morning, as he directed cars onto the curb, he talked about the stressful customers whose only goal is to walk the shortest distance to that San Francisco ferry.
Like the woman who begged him for a spot, telling him it was her birthday. Or the elderly man who feigned a heart attack to get sympathy. Or the woman who followed him around the lot, cursing and screaming.
But the worst was being charged by the man in the business suit.
Said Robinson, a no-nonsense man dressed in a wool cap and blue jumpsuit: "I said 'Mister, there's three people inside me, and two of them are holding me back, so please don't come any closer.'
"He laughed, which is rare. That doesn't happen much at this parking place."