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BART posts elevator watchdogs at all downtown SF stations

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Attendants on elevators are one of the few things riders say they like about BART

A subway platform in San Francisco, with the support pillars wrapped in yellow ad posters. Photo via Shutterstock

BART will double the number of stations with posted elevator attendants in San Francisco starting this week, adding watchful eyes to lifts at Montgomery and Embarcadero stations.

Now every downtown San Francisco station (Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery, and Embarcadero) will have an elevator attendant on duty during BART commute hours.

“Unwanted behavior on the elevators, such as drug use or graffiti, dropped to virtually zero with attendants in place,” the transit agency claims. BART program manger Tim Chan says that “feedback on the elevator attendant program has been overwhelmingly positive.”

In 2018, BART unveiled a pilot program of elevator attendants at Civic Center and Powell Street stations, hoping that having an employee on duty in the conveyance would cut down on problems like graffiti and urination.

The transit agency framed its elevator woes as a homeless-specific problem, saying at the time that “the nationwide homelessness crisis presented transit agencies with a unique set of challenges” and that having someone on duty would “ensure our elevators are usable while also pointing people who need a restroom in the right direction.”

While it seems absurd to go to such lengths to prevent elevator abuse, the program proved successful.

The annual BART rider survey released at the beginning of this year, although marked by wide disapproval of BART in general, found that riders’ happiness with the elevators at Civic Center station leaped from 44 percent to 93 percent after the attendant program started.

BART’s 2018-2019 budget estimated that posting attendants at two stations cost the agency $1.6 million annually. A $2.6 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission covers the cost of the new station attendants. BART contracts with the Bayview-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy to hire new attendants.

BART has also added new fare gates on the platform level at Montgomery Station so that riders must tag in and out before entering or leaving the elevator.

Prior to fare gates, it was easy to evade payment by simply taking the lift down to the platform without bothering to pay.

Attendants and elevator operators are a fairly common feature in other cities’ transit systems. New York City’s subway, for example, once employed elevator operators throughout its system, but today only a handful remain.