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A Short Story to Read on BART? These Machines Will Print You One for Free

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The Pleasant Hill BART Station.
The Pleasant Hill BART station is one of three stations with a new short-story dispenser offering free printed reading material to passengers. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

These days, most BART riders spend their travel time staring at their phones—and understandably so. In an increasingly digitized world accelerated by the isolation of the pandemic, our lives have migrated almost entirely online.

But now, BART riders are able to use touchless Short Story Dispensers to receive free one-, three- and five-minute reads at Richmond, Fruitvale, and Pleasant Hill Stations, with another one coming soon to Montgomery Street Station. Local writers will have the chance to have their work published and distributed as part of the project after the one-year pilot, sponsored by the BART Communications Department and Art Program, is up and running.

The kiosks are COVID-safe and touchless—a story is dispensed by simply holding your finger above a sensor—and the stories are printed on recyclable paper. Readers are encouraged to collect the stories.

The program is operating in partnership with Short Édition, a French publishing house that specializes in poetry, short stories, and flash fiction. Founded in 2011 and expanding their reach to the United States in 2018, Short Édition created the Short Story Dispenser in 2016, printing and distributing their one, three, and five minute stories in public spaces around the world with the aim of uplifting literature in a digital age.

The first dispenser in the country was installed at Café Zoetrope in San Francisco’s North Beach. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, the owner of the cafe, read about the concept in The New Yorker and was enamored with it, and has found that cafe customers love it.


“They are fascinated, trying to figure out how, and why, something can exist to give them a gift, a literary gift, without depositing a coin,” Coppola told BART. He is now an investor in the company.

The arts have been a source of relief for many throughout the past year, and BART officials hope that this can be one small way to improve the day to day lives of their riders. “The opportunity to bring micro fiction into BART, providing creative moments as part of the transit experience,” said Art Program Manager Jennifer Easton, “is even more compelling as the Bay Area emerges from the pandemic.”

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