October 25, 2021

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BART renting unused parking spaces to Tesla

FREMONT — As Tesla continues to crank out more electric cars each month from its Fremont factory, parking woes for its many thousands of employees have only become worse, so it’s turned to its next door neighbor, BART, for help.

For much of this year, the electric carmaker has been renting hundreds of parking spaces from BART at the Warm Springs/South Fremont station, just a stone’s throw from the main factory, netting the public transit agency just over $433,000 as of September, according to James Allison, a BART spokesman.

The agreement works well for BART, who has seen ridership tank during the pandemic. The expansive flat parking lot at Warm Springs with almost 2,100 spaces — largely filled on weekdays before COVID hit — has been “nearly empty” during the pandemic, according to a BART board memo from January.

Tesla proposed the idea, according to Allison. While Tesla submitted plans to Fremont to add more parking stalls on a gravelly lot at the rear of its factory earlier this year, the company still needed more parking in the to keep up with its growing workforce.

Cars are seen in this overhead drone view parked in one of the lots being rented by Tesla for its employees at the Warm Springs/South Fremont BART station, as Tesla employee shuttles wait for passengers at a bus stop at the station on Sept. 7, 2021. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Tesla employees and contractors can park in any space in one of five designated areas of the Warm Springs lot where BART has agreed to give Tesla access, according to BART and informational sign boards for employees.

Workers can then catch one of a series of company shuttles that do pickups and dropoffs from before dawn through 9 p.m.

For some, it’s a much better option than trying to compete for spaces at the main factory lot, where parking is so cramped it inspired an Instagram account dedicated to documenting the troublesome workarounds some employees have resorted to before a shift.

“Near damn impossible,” is how a man named Jonathan described trying to find a space in the main lot.

Jonathan, who’s worked as a contractor for Tesla in Fremont for a few years, didn’t want to give his last name, as he is not authorized by Tesla to speak to the media.

“My techs would get to work two hours early to find a spot, and would still call me to say they’d be about 10 minutes late,” Jonathan said of the parking situation at the main lot.

FREMONT, CA – MARCH 18: A parking lot at Tesla’s Fremont factory is seen in Fremont, Calif. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Another man, who said he’s a janitor at Tesla, but didn’t want to give his name for fear of losing his job, hasn’t enjoyed the new arrangement as much.

“I had a Toyota Prius, and about two months ago, (someone) stole my catalytic converter,” he said, while the car was in the BART lot.

He said the main Tesla factory lot is more secure so he’d prefer to park there, but Tesla told him he would have to start using the BART lot a few months ago.

Beginning in early February, BART reserved 500 parking stalls in the station’s permit parking areas for Tesla employees, and in June the agreement was expanded to 900 spaces, accounting for roughly 43% of the total available parking spaces at the station.

While a normal BART rider pays $105 per month for a monthly parking permit, Tesla was initially granted a 50% discount, paying BART $26,250 a month to use 500 spaces through April, “as Tesla was not certain when they would begin ramping up use of the spaces due to uncertainty around the pandemic/return to work,” Allison said in an email.

In May through July, Tesla was given a 25% discount, Allison said, and the discount ended on August 1. Since then, Tesla has been paying $94,500 per month for 900 spaces, though not all of them are used each day.

Parking issues aren’t limited to Tesla’s main factory, where the bulk of its production takes place.

At Tesla outposts nearby, such as offices and an ancillary factory off Kato Road, parking in the past at those lots was so tight, some employees parked along a muddy shoulder of the road, sharing space with homeless people who were living in RVs in the area, before the city of Fremont placed large rocks there to stop the practice.

Another man leaving the BART station Friday afternoon, who said he’s worked at multiple Tesla sites, said the added parking is a convenient option for him.

“I just walked off the shuttle a second ago and now I’m getting in my car,” he said. While some Tesla employees take BART to arrive at the Warm Springs station, on a recent weekday, the large majority of people riding Tesla employee shuttles to and from the station drove to the lot.

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Allison said BART has some similar contracts in place with private companies at other stations, as the agency tries to make good use of mostly empty parking lots during the pandemic, but Tesla’s agreement is the largest among them.

He added that there have been “numerous other temporary agreements granting third-party access to our parking areas for COVID testing and vaccination sites.”

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