BART Access Impacts Homeless People

Dear Board of Supervisors and concerned citizens,

I am writing you as a concerned disabled resident of San Francisco in regards to the new $1.2 million proposal to “improve” the MUNI/BART Elevators at Powell and Civic Center Stations.  This item proposal was presented by Tim Chan yesterday (5/18/18) at the Mayor’s Office on Disability meeting at City Hall, which I attended remotely. I am specifically concerned that this project has absolutely nothing to do with helping the disabled and everything to do with further prosecuting and criminalizing the poor and communities of color in the Tenderloin area for fare evasion.

As a long time wheelchair user I have always hoped for better improvements in BART’s services, especially their elevators.  For decades BART has routinely neglected ADA access and left numerous elevators out of service on a regular basis. These elevators are filthy, poorly indicated, often narrow and hard to navigate.  Many of the doors close very rapidly requiring fast reflexes and extra waiting time as well. Broken elevators are indicated by a neglected white board posted inside, often illegibly written on with a marker and rarely up-to-date.  For decades these elevators have been in a deplorable state, always in disrepair and in dire need of technicians and janitorial services.

BART has also neglected to provide bathrooms for its customers, including the disabled.   Many of the stations have no option for people traveling up to 1-2 hours on transit to relieve themselves.  Many disabled people have difficulty with IBS and other challenges that make this incredibly problematic.

Another concern is BART’s lack of providing one-time disability use passes.  I sometimes need to just make one trip across to the East Bay and I cannot buy a BART disabled pass at any station.  Instead, the disabled are forced to travel by some other means to wait in lines and buy our tickets beforehand at the Civic Center station, only during specified business hours.  These tickets can only be purchased in very specific amounts and I always have an unused (wasted) portion at the end. This is a noticeable barrier, especially for me, since I don’t live near Civic Center.  Spending another hour long painful commute to buy a pass that is supposed to help me is completely illogical. MUNI is far ahead of this of course, and does not force disabled people into this situation.

I mention these examples as a reference for BART’s incredibly bad track record serving the disabled.  Years back many disabled activists had to protest for our right to access transportation. We are still engaged in that struggle today.  BART has never gone out of its way to support us and has only responded in times of protest or pending litigation. This proposal is no different, and is a response to an ongoing lawsuit brought on by local disability organizations.  See:

This recent shift in elevator policy is alarming to me because it does not seem to be a break with that trend.  Instead of hiring new repair people and janitorial staff, BART will be including new personal to attend the elevators at all times, at a cost of $1.2 million.  Acting Group Manager Tim Chan said in yesterday’s meeting that these personnel will not be union (they found a loophole so as to hire people at a pitiful $15/hour), and they will be quick to call BART police for any issues.  Tim Chan did not respond to my concern as to whether or not this new employee would carry weapons (gun, Taser, or baton).

Both Civic Center and Powell Stations are high-traffic areas for the disabled poor of the Tenderloin, the African-American community that lives there, and for nearby China Town.  I am extremely concerned as to how these populations will be treated by this new elevator gate keeper.

It is no secret that the BART Police has a shameful history of brutalizing and murdering unarmed people of color under dubious circumstances.  Only with modern cell phones has the full extent of BART police violence been able to be widely acknowledged. The most infamous incident, which became the subject of the critically-acclaimed movie Fruitvale Station (2013), was the murder of Oscar Grant: an unarmed father who was shot in the back by BART police while begging for his life.  After the shooting, BART police tried to confiscate all passenger cell phones while leaving Mr. Grant bleeding to death on the Fruitvale BART platform. For more details on this incident, see:

I do not want BART’s new elevator improvement program to come at the cost of the safety and respect of communities of color.  I am extremely concerned that this will be the case, and that the disabled community is being used to further the agenda of prosecution for fare evasion by means of an increased police presence.  It makes perfect sense for BART to prosecute and prevent fare evasion. They should not however, do so under the guise of pretending to serve the disabled community.

Having a BART elevator gate keeper, underpaid and under-trained, who will be quick to dial the police, does not make me feel safe as a paying BART customer.  As a wheelchair user I see this as a potential access barrier for myself, not to mention those with non-visible disabilities.

Of course, I want BART to improve services for the disabled.  If BART really cares about the disabled community, I would support them in doing any of the following:

  • Provide bathrooms at all stations in San Francisco so that the disabled and weary travelers can relieve themselves.  This will undoubtedly improve the elevators which are currently being used as a public bathroom by some people.
  • Increase janitorial staff and pay a union-based living-wage to routinely clean elevators.
  • Increase elevator repair staff and pay a union-based living-wage to improve elevator maintenance.  Commit to keeping all elevators functioning.
  • Provide single-use disabled passes at all BART stations.  Let disabled people buy passes that match the cost of fare for travel with the disability discount.
  • Provide modern electronic audio / visual notifications for elevator updates at all stations.  These can be updated remotely with today’s technology to be 100% accurate.
  • Construct new elevators for stations that are 20 or 30 years old.  Improve elevator access to better match modern ADA guidelines and community safety standards.
  • Provide a phone number for disabled people to call that need assistance, clearly displayed inside and outside of all elevators.
  • Provide and train BART staff to assist the disabled at stations if requested.
  • Provide a clear grievance number and email outside of elevators for people to submit concerns to.

While I usually encourage any help with access on public transportation, I find this proposal to be divisive while avoiding the more crucial issues that face disabled BART customers like myself.  It shifts the conversation away from BART’s responsibility and fosters an antagonistic dialogue between the disabled, the poor, and communities of color.

This proposal comes across as a half-baked attempt by BART to settle the current ADA litigation without fully resolving issues around equal access, restrooms, functioning elevators, and livable wages.  If BART is serious about improving access for the disabled, I should hope that they try any of the above suggestions, none of which include prosecution and possible violence against the disenfranchised or communities of color.

Thank you so much for your time,


SF resident / wheelchair user / BART passenger