BART board postpones vote on cell phone service interruption policy

The Bay Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors decided to postpone voting on a policy that would allow the agency to temporarily disrupt cellphone service.

The public raised concern at a board meeting Thursday that the policy did not make specific considerations for the disabled and also that the language of the policy needed to be altered. The new policy — which looks to clarify the agency’s procedures after it faced criticism for interrupting cell phone service in an attempt to stop an Aug. 11 protest organized by group No Justice No BART — could be ready for approval at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, according to board President Bob Franklin.

“The two big concerns that come up is when the service is shut down, how does the disabled riding public get out of the station,” said Randall Glock, chair of the BART Accessibility Task Force, at the meeting. “Especially the deaf and hard of hearing (who) rely so much on text messages.”

Glock said he was also worried that there needed to be adequate staff to help the disabled public leave the station.

Specific recommendations and comments were made about the language of the one-page policy.

The current draft of the policy allows the district to implement a temporary interruption of cell phone service only when it determines that there is strong evidence of imminent unlawful activity that threatens the safety of the district.

“We would like you to clarify what it means in the policy by quote ‘strong imminent unlawful conduct’ and who will review this evidence,” said Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a public comment at the meeting.

Discussion was also raised about the specific mention of the authority to enact an interruption of cell phone service, according to Franklin. The drafted policy states the decision to implement temporary interruption requires the authorization of the general manager.

“There may be times when the general manager may not be available,” Franklin said.

The new draft will be written by Matt Burrows, the BART’s general counsel, with the support of the general manager, board president and members of his legal staff to make the suggested changes, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison.

”BART got a lot of international attention because of this,” Franklin said.  “BART got the scrutiny, but also the opportunity to lead the way.”

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