BART Blues

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BART riders are increasingly unhappy with the system, and Tom Epstein is one of them.

I have a love-hate relationship with BART.

When I moved to the area in 2001 for a job in downtown San Francisco, I chose to live in the East Bay so I wouldn’t have to drive to work. I could rely on BART for a hassle-free, reliable, and environmentally friendly commute.

On the night before my first day on the job, however, I went to bed not knowing if BART would be on strike in the morning. Fortunately, an agreement was reached before I woke. It was a rude introduction to my new reliance on public transit.

BART workers did strike twice in 2013, and their ability to disrupt the entire Bay Area was crystal clear. It’s a power they should not have. The recent federal government shutdown demonstrates how ordinary people and the overall economy suffer when vital services are disrupted.


Last month, a survey of BART riders found customer satisfaction of just 53%, down from more than 80% in 2012. About a quarter complained about filth, crime, and overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Bay Area voters have showered resources on BART. Ballot measures to raise property taxes, bridge tolls and sales taxes were successful, providing billions of dollars for the system. It’s time to hold BART board members and workers accountable to address its customers’ concerns and improve service.

That said, BART is facing intractable challenges not of its own making.

I’m among many who have seen people shooting drugs, urinating, falling ill and, of course, sleeping in and around BART stations. The trains and stations are on the front lines of the Bay Area’s homelessness, drug abuse, and mental health crises. They offer a respite for people who live in extreme poverty or aren’t capable of navigating life in this increasingly expensive region.

Other Bay Area institutions must do more to combat these societal problems. Governments, businesses, and community organizations cannot expect BART to be an oasis in a sea of inequity and distress. It falls on all of us to demonstrate empathy, be more charitable, and take action to improve the conditions of the least fortunate among us.

With a Perspective, I’m Tom Epstein.

Tom Epstein is a writer and community volunteer who lives in the East Bay.