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Will BART's Program to Battle Sexual Harassment Make Riders Feel Safer?

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a group of mostly women stand outside, holding up three colorful posters
Advocates and BART officials gathered at the Berkeley station to announce the expansion of the agency's sexual harassment prevention program. (Billy Cruz/KQED)

After Phase 1 launched two years ago, BART is now expanding its effort to battle sexual harassment and gender-based violence on the transit system — or, at least, battle the perception of BART as unsafe for women and genderqueer riders.

“Phase 2 comes at a time when we are doing everything we can do to win riders back. … and that starts with safety,” said Alicia Trost, BART’s chief communications officer.

When BART began collecting data on sexual harassment in 2020, they found that 10% of people surveyed had experienced gender-based violence within the last six months. Almost three years later — and two years after the start of its “Not One More Girl” prevention campaign — that number is still at 10% today.

But the biggest challenge, said BART officials, may simply be the perception riders have of its system. A survey of 274 students in east Contra Costa found over 45% said they did not feel safe on BART. And with ridership numbers still at 40% of pre-COVID trips, the agency is facing a “fiscal cliff.” A rollout of new gates, which make it harder to evade fares, is also part of the agency’s effort to change perceptions and woo back riders.

The first part of the “Not One More Girl” initiative, which began in April 2021, collected data on sexual harassment and added tools to the BART Watch App (an app to report crime on BART) that would make it easier to report noncriminal harassment. During its first year, just 29 people reported noncriminal harassment, according to BART.


But what may have been most noticeable, though, was the increase in BART’s unarmed safety personnel, expanding the numbers of transit ambassadors and crisis intervention specialists. Last year they added 10 ambassadors, and 15 crisis specialists.

This next phase will focus, instead, on how bystanders can help prevent sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

“We are demanding awareness from our community,” said Franchesca Rodriguez, the transit justice facilitator for the Betti Ono Foundation. Rodriguez was part of the initial group providing input and suggestions to BART on this second phase of the program.

She joined BART officials and other community organizations on Thursday at the station in downtown Berkeley to describe the next parts of the plan.

BART’s goal is for “a future of data-driven policy and programming to better uphold riders’ safety — with girls and gender-expansive youth of color at the center,” said Chantal Hildebrand, deputy director for the Alliance of Girls.

Here’s what Phase 2 has planned:

Shorter trains

BART officials typically recommend that people sit in the front car if they’re traveling alone. That’s because the train operator is at the very front, too — making you not entirely alone.

But Trost, BART’s communications person, says that “[young people] don’t like to wait at the end of the platform where the first car lands, because it’s dark and sketchy.” The solution? Make cars shorter. That way if someone is waiting for the first train car, they don’t have to wait near the corner. This also will lead to less empty cars overall, which BART officials believe will reduce harassment.

two colorful cards say 'i got you' and 'you got me?'
These cards are meant to be used either asking for help or offering it. (Billy Cruz/KQED)

To make up for these shorter trains and to decrease the amount of time people have to wait at stations, BART officials said the agency will also soon increase frequency at nights and on weekends.

Bystander intervention cards

BART is also offering two colorful paper cards so riders, in theory, can discreetly ask or offer help. The cards are the same size as a Clipper card and can be found at station agent booths or with transit ambassadors and crisis intervention specialists.

One card says, “You got me?” and asks for help. It also provides details on what a bystander can do to get assistance for the person who needs help. The other card says “I got you.” The idea, here, is that if you see someone being harassed, you can discreetly give them one of these cards, letting them know someone’s looking out for them. It signals to the person in distress that you can and will help them if they need, whether it be through the BART Watch App or by calling BART police.

Safety posters

Local artist Safi Kolozsvari Regalado has also designed three posters that are currently on 300 BART trains and at several BART stations. The posters offer safety tips in a youthful comic-book style. One explains how the front train car is the safest. Another shows what the BART Watch App can be used for and encourages people to download it. All highlight scenes of bystander intervention. The posters also explain the larger initiative, and include a QR code that directs you to a BART webpage on gender-based violence.

While the posters are already up, the bystander intervention cards, shorter trains and change in train frequency will start on Sept. 11.

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