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BART director says transit agency is duping passengers into thinking system is safe

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Debora Allen rails against her fellows in op-ed

A BART train on a darkened platform with bright artificial lighting. Photo by Getty Images

As BART faces increased scrutiny after the recent stabbing death of a passenger on the Warm Springs line, one of the transit agency’s own board members has publicly railed against BART’s lack of security standards.

Debora Allen, who represent parts of Contra Costa County on BART’s Board of Directors, penned an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury-News following the death at South Hayward Station (which BART police say started as an altercation on a train). She says that that transit officials are “duping” passengers, alleging that her fellow directors are not serious about improving safety.

“BART has an obligation to protect the safety of riders inside its fare gates and is legally allowed to take protective measures, based on court rulings,” writes Allen. “But BART’s fare gates are notoriously porous and offer no real barrier to protect paying commuters.”

She also says that although rules are in place to protect riders, “what’s lacking is the will—and staffing—to enforce them.”

The East Bay representative says that BART has not significantly grown its police force in recent years, and belittles competing plans to hire civilians ambassadors to observe and report on trains instead.

She goes on to claim that other BART policymakers don’t share her zeal for policing minor crimes like fare evasion, bemoaning the failure of her proposed ban on panhandling and busking earlier this year.

Allen has enjoyed some successes in her law-and-order campaign in recent years, including promoting “station hardening” measures like higher barriers and new gates to make fare evasion more difficult.

Nevertheless, she calls most of BART’s anti-crime measures “toothless” and “a waste of management resources.”

In June, the Alameda County Grand Jury studied the BART crime rate and found that violent crime, including robberies and aggravated assaults, jumped 115 percent since 2014.

In 2014, BART saw 153 reported robberies. In 2018, that figure was 349. The number of cases of aggravated assault rose from 71 to 130 during the same period.

Homicides remain rare on BART, with zero in 2014 and in 2017, and only one in 2015 and in 2016—but 2018 saw three. In all, the number of combined violent crimes was up from 226 to 485 in the system during that span.

The grand jury acknowledged that “the BART Police Department is still very much aware of its damaged relationship with residents throughout the Bay Area, particularly African-Americans.” The jury cites the 2009 death of Oscar Grant as an albatross that mars the reputation and performance of the department to this day.

BART police reported in August that it had hired 40 new officers this year. Interim Police Chief Ed Alvarez commented, “For the first time in years, our hiring pace is ahead of our attrition rate.”

The BART board approved hiring 19 additional officers this year; however, Allen alleges that this is too few, citing a University of North Texas audit that recommended 94 new hires.

In January, the annual BART rider satisfaction survey found that of those people polled who had stopped riding BART, 23 percent cited worries about crime.