clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

BART considers ditching seat hog fine

A rule that has never been enforced anyway

Empty seats on a BART train. Public Domain

Last April, BART struck a blow for polite and reasonable transit riders everywhere by instituting fines of up to $500 against chronic seat hogs who take up more than one space during critical hours on the system.

But it turns out that blow was more of a feint. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, the rule has never once been enforced on BART—because BART’s board of directors never agreed on any enforcement mechanism or guidelines.

At this week’s board meeting, the agency may scrap the entire thing.

The seeds of the policy’s downfall were already sown as soon as it passed. It’s easy enough to say we should punish rude people. But as BART’s police union head pointed out last year, “Most of these complaints are going to be against the homeless. [...] That may cause a backlash.”

Boosters on the board said they would simply not employ the rules against homeless riders. But never quite managed to agree on how to do that.

As the San Jose Mercury News explains, the only thing disgruntled passengers could do upon seeing someone snoozing on the train is “request a welfare check from an officer who will come and awaken the passenger to ensure they’re OK.”

BART cops confronting a rider taking up more than one seat are in the odd position of confronting a person who is technically breaking the rules but being unable to do anything about it.

Which is only slightly less odd than going through the trouble of first passing and now perhaps rescinding a rule that may as well have never existed in the first place.

This week’s vote is likely to be a close one—the original statute only passed 5-4.

A 2012 Yale University study observed that public transit riders will do almost anything to avoid having a stranger sit next to them. Two of the most effective methods: stretching out, and putting large bags or coats on empty seats next to you.

Science Daily writes:

Race, class, gender and other background characteristics were not key concerns for commuters when they discovered someone had to sit next them. They all just wanted to avoid the "crazy person." [...]

"Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time," concluded [lead researcher Esther] Kim. "Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces."