BART’s plans, initiatives need to stay on track

BAY AREA AFFAIRS: With many new projects and changes, BART must make sure it is keeping community interests in mind

Illustration of inside of BART train
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Public transportation is an integral part of any urban area, and BART is no exception. Thousands of commuters depend on the transit system as their main source of transportation. But in recent years, BART has seen a decline in ridership as overcrowding, delays and crime have risen.

BART has been making attempts to address these issues through a series of initiatives, some of which have used funding from the $3.5 billion designated to rebuilding BART through Measure RR. But some of these improvements have created problems of their own.

With its floundering accessibility and a dire need for new infrastructure, BART has many miles to go before it catches up with the Bay Area’s needs. Join us as we take a closer look at some of the twists and turns these improvements have taken.

2020 budget

Recently, the BART Board of Directors approved a $2.3 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year; part of the budget will be dedicated to quality-of-life initiatives, with $27 million being allocated to projects such as security, homeless outreach and fare evasion prevention.

To ensure the safety of its riders, BART allocated an unprecedented $2.1 million to hiring 19 new police officers. But the funds allocated for this increased policing should not dip into the already limited $59 million allocated to the quality-of-life initiatives, which include other important security proposals. If BART makes policing funds a separate part of its budget, then more money can be dedicated to these urgent outreach and wellness initiatives.

BART is investing $2 million this upcoming year in outreach and Pit Stop restroom maintenance. While BART’s increased commitment to rehousing and supporting homeless individuals is commendable, it needs to ensure that the recently announced fare increase of 5.4 percent doesn’t negate its efforts to aid low-income populations. On top of that, BART should actively seek feedback from riders to ensure that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s 20 percent discount is enough for those populations that it hopes to aid with its new budget.

Clipper cards

To phase out paper tickets, BART announced that four stations will only offer Clipper card fares beginning this summer and fall. However, this initiative has implications that are in danger of being overlooked.

It’s true that the system’s environmental footprint will likely be reduced when regular riders switch to reusable, permanent cards. But for less frequent users such as tourists, waste will still be generated as plastic cards are thrown away. To address this, BART should implement a program that allows infrequent users to return their cards when they finish using them.

Another major concern is the effect of this switch to Clipper cards on low-income BART riders. While the $3 purchase fee can be waived if riders sign up online to have their cards autoloaded when the balance nears zero, people living paycheck to paycheck may not be able to do so. And when riders lose their cards, Clipper charges a fee to replace it and reload the balance lost. BART needs to take more steps to keep the system accessible to low-income riders, such as a program that allows them to apply for free Clipper cards at station kiosks. These fees may seem insignificant, but they more than double the cost of a short BART trip.

Quality-of-life initiatives

BART’s quality-of-life campaign is an encouraging step toward improving the Bay Area’s public transportation experience for commuters. The campaign consists of several initiatives to fund and expand three of BART’s existing primary programs: the Pit Stop program, the Homeless Outreach Team program and the elevator attendant program.

Collectively, these programs will provide more crucial facilities and resources to BART patrons, including clean, safe public toilets adjacent to stations and outreach teams for the homeless community at more BART locations. With such limited public sanitary and waste resources available to homeless individuals in the Bay Area, this program is an important step toward improving standards of health and safety for these communities. Additionally, providing an attendant at the elevators to and from BART platforms has been an essential step in ensuring the conditions remain clean and accessible for those who are unable to take the stairs.

At a time when 44 percent of customers are dissatisfied with its services, BART should continue to approve and expand initiatives such as the quality-of-life campaign.

3rd rail replacement

From August to October, BART will be working to improve its infrastructure by replacing 3,200 feet of its third rail. According to BART spokesperson Chris Filippi, this project, funded through Measure RR, is a necessary improvement, considering the rails have “outlived their useful lives.”

The new stainless steel-capped railings, which will eventually be employed systemwide, are reportedly lighter, more flexible and quieter than the current rails. As a result, noise pollution coming from BART will likely decrease, and riders will have a more efficient commute thanks to the more economical and conductive railing.

Improvements to infrastructure often seem to not be a priority for institutions, cities and even the state. Through its investment in bringing its infrastructure up to industry standards, BART is taking a step in the right direction. By replacing the outdated rails with updated equipment, BART is putting a refreshing value on the safety of its riders and the integrity of its infrastructure.

New rail car assembly site

In June, BART collaborated with Bombardier Transportation on an initiative to move the production site of its “Fleet of the Future” railway cars from upstate New York to Pittsburg, California. Filippi cited this move as a way for BART to increase job opportunities for workers in the Bay Area and to “contribute tax dollars to the local economy.” He also emphasized the shift as a more efficient way to produce the cards and transport them to where they are needed.

This project cites many benefits, but it is important that BART stays transparent in the creation of this production facility in the Bay Area. The environmental footprint of the facility, from its exact placement in the city to the repercussions it may have on the surrounding community, should be considered as the change is made. As it moves forward with development, BART must keep the community informed on the environmental impacts the new site may have, including air and noise pollution. Overall, environmentally friendly policies must not be sacrificed for increased efficiency of production.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editors.