March 12 2013

San Francisco’s Bay Area’s BART Faces Challenges Over Ridership Safety

The Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART as it is commonly known, is an expansive public transit system in California’s San Francisco Bay Area that has a reputation for being unsafe. Transit police is not a concept unique to just this system, but the BART Police are a strong presence throughout the 44 different stations nevertheless.

BART Police Car

The lines run through a variety of neighborhoods, ranging from high-end suburbs to crime-ridden urban centers. For these reasons, you will see BART Police patrolling certain stations while completely absent at others.

Over the course of my years living in the Bay Area, I have heard many stories of friends or acquaintances being mugged at BART stations. Riders are often targeted coming to and from stops because they are distracted when using their smart phones. Community gatherings have taken place focused solely on how to solve this issue.

If you search web content on this topic, you will see that the most dangerous stations have lines that run above the road. These are generally lower-income neighborhoods with higher crime rates that could not afford to have their BART station be built underground.

MacArthur BART

For example, the West Oakland BART station runs directly through the neighborhood, acting as a divider between the commercial/residential section and the industrial area. During the holiday season, local enforcement utilized volunteer escorts to assist riders who wanted an extra body while walking to their vehicles.

It is an unfortunate circumstance as it makes encouraging public transit ridership difficult knowing safety concerns are legitimate. Fortunately, efforts are being made to improve this situation, such as the implementation of Assembly Bill 716. The bill would issue a “prohibition order” against anyone who commits an offense on BART property, which could ban them from anywhere between 30 days to a year.


This is a challenging situation for urban planners because it clearly goes beyond the BART stations. The general safety of the surrounding neighborhoods ultimately determines the safety at those spots. Although the police are there for your protection, it is not necessarily the most reassuring feeling knowing they have to be there.

What challenges do your local public transit systems face?

Credits: Photos by Robert Poole. Data linked to sources.

Rob Poole

Rob Poole graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in City and Regional Planning. He grew up in San Diego, but now resides in San Francisco. He currently works at a non-profit organization in San Francisco that advocates for new housing development for all income levels in the City. He also interns with Streetsblog San Francisco. Rob plans to pursue a career that promotes civic engagement in cities and improves the public process for local governments.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 at 9:05 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Infrastructure, Land Use, Robert Poole, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “San Francisco’s Bay Area’s BART Faces Challenges Over Ridership Safety”

  1. Michael Jenkins Says:

    Very well written article. You brought up an issue that is not only a nation wide issue but a world wide one as well.

    However I am going to have to disagree with you on crime being a big issue with BART and the Bay’s urban planners.

    As a native of Oakland, I have never once heard claims from friends or even acquaintances that they ran into trouble on BART. I have friends of all ethic and socio-economic backgrounds. Now this is not go to say that there is no crime at all, but rather something that is inflated by racial fears.

    Not to discredit your article, but I could ask you if you have been a victim of crime on BART. More than likely the answer would be no, if the answer would be yes then I am sure your article would have expressed your first hand experience of crime on BART.

    I believe the issue is inflated by prejudices, the same prejudices that come about when people claim to be scared of Oakland; the very same Oakland where I was raised two houses down from a golf course, the very same Oakland where I was raised next to NBA celebrities.

    In a very simple search on crime in Oakland I came across a Lieutenant Gil Lopez who is on the force for BART police and has listed the data on BART crime showing that the numbers are low and have been since 2010.

    The issues in Oakland and the Bay area whether they be financial, education, or transportation, run much deeper than we would like to dive; they begin with residents working to understand one another rather than looking from afar and making blind opinions.

  2. Michael Jenkins Says:

    Here is the contact info the lieutenant

    Lieutenant Gil Lopez #L22
    BART Police Department
    800 Madison St., PO Box 12688
    Oakland, Ca., 94604-2688
    1(877) 679-7000 (Toll-free)
    Voicemail: (510) 464-6599 Ext.: 51502

    Read more:

  3. Robert Poole Says:


    Thank you for your insight. I will look further into this data. You’re right, I do not have any personal experiences to write about that would support the topic of my blog. Perhaps I should have provided statistical analysis to support my writing.

    I cannot say whether or not this issue is stemmed from racial prejudice or some sort of fear of Oakland. However, I was not trying to infer either one. I chose this topic because after living in Berkeley for four-and-a-half years, this issue has resonated with me enough that I thought it was worth writing about in my blog. I am not trying to single out Oakland. I could have reflected on complaints I’ve heard about the Civic Center station in San Francisco.

    I have heard stories over these past few years in Berkeley of people getting robbed at BART stations. Just a couple of months ago a restaurant owner came into the gym I worked at to notify us of a community gathering he was hosting because so many people have been robbed coming to an from the MacArthur station.

    Maybe the complaints or fears I have heard are ignorant. But I am not trying to infer that they are rooted in racial fears. I feel there is a legitimacy to my post that I wanted to offer my insight on.

    I am choosing these topics because they are relevant to Oakland and I want to learn more about this city. It’s a fascinating area that changes from block to block. There are so many different neighborhoods in Oakland that it is impossible to give it just one identity.

    I may have drifted away from the topic of discussion here, but thank you for your comment. I am glad we can have thoughtful discussion on this forum, even if we do not agree on every issue.



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