BART’s board of directors approved a $2.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2019 starting July 1, addressing issues ranging from homeless encampments to fare evasion, according to a press release issued Thursday.
The budget allocates $1.6 million to increase security measures and reduce encampments on BART properties, as well as $300,000 to hire two additional BART police dispatchers. Mike Zint, co-founder of homeless rights activist group First They Came for the Homeless, said these measures are targeting homeless individuals.
“Fencing is about restricting access to people BART approves of,” Zint said in an email. “Homeless (people) are not approved of. Cops are there to make sure you pay, and to make sure you aren’t a homeless person sitting in a hallway.”
BART spokesperson Chris Filippi, however, said BART is taking a multifaceted approach to homeless encampments on BART properties, and BART’s goal is to “promote public safety.”
BART helped create “Homeless Outreach Teams” through a partnership with the city of San Francisco to get support for homeless individuals living in downtown San Francisco stations, according to Filippi. He added that BART is looking to establish similar partnerships in other communities that BART serves, including Berkeley.
“When we’re talking about the homeless issue, it’s something that we see impacts of in the BART system, but this is a broader problem — not just in the Bay Area, but in the nation,” Filippi said. “To deal with it in an effective way, we have to partner with communities.”
Filippi said the teams build relationships with homeless individuals and help them find appropriate supporting services. Zint, however, said they are “sweeping the homeless away” in San Francisco.
“All they did was remove,” Zint said in an email. “The official responses to homelessness are never about a solution — they are about punishment, public humiliation, demonizing, and scapegoating.”
The budget also allocates $1.2 million to design and construct “ ‘hardening’ ” improvements to prevent fare evaders from bypassing the fare gates, according to the press release. An additional $1 million is allocated for purchasing fare gates and other equipment to reduce fare evasion.
Filippi said reducing fare evasion is a “long-term” project and BART is currently researching and developing a plan for implementing new fare gates. Lateefah Simon, a BART district director, previously told The Daily Californian that BART loses millions of dollars annually to fare evaders, and the issue continues to worsen.
“It’s a giant dollar drain,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Worthington added that he sees people avoid paying the fare by using the accessible elevators in the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Filippi said BART installed fencing near the elevators at South Hayward BART station in order to combat a similar problem, and is considering the fencing approach for other stations as well.
BART’s budget will also fund the “Pit Stop Program,” which provides public restroom facilities at the downtown San Francisco stations, according to Filippi. Worthington said that City Council asked BART to reinstate a public restroom at the Downtown Berkeley station, and BART is currently working on including one in the renovated station.
“For us, this budget highlights quality of life issues that our riders have made it clear to us,” Filippi said. “We want them to feel comfortable. We want them to feel safe.”