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BART steps up police presence as persistent delays frustrate riders

A BART Police officer stands guard at Powell Street Station BART entrance in San Francisco. | Amy Osborne/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images | Source: Amy Osborne/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Cash-strapped and losing ridership, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system announced plans to more than double police presence on its trains and stations by mid-March. 

Some BART advocates say that the increased patrols are desperately needed on the transit system: The pandemic pushed concerns about rider safety to new heights, and public perceptions about crime, cleanliness, drug use and homelessness have driven many former riders away.

The decision to invest in greater BART police presence comes at the same time that the agency continues to struggle with another long-standing issue: train delays. 

In June, one in three BART trains was delayed. SFist reported in October that BART’s delays were the worst the agency has seen in a decade and the recent spate of brutal winter weather has slowed down trains throughout the Bay. 

Though those disruptions can be caused by anything from inclement weather to mechanical issues, delays due to police activity have also increased in the last 12 months, according to BART data.

An agency spokesperson attributed the uptick in part to seasonal ridership trends and noted that BART also began displaying a police text number on trains and platforms in mid-2022 that generated an increase in calls.

Police responses can happen for a variety of reasons, including medical issues and crime incidents—and they include both incidents that happen in BART stations and outside of BART, but close enough that an outside agency may request transit to hold trains. Agency representatives say that as other public health and crime issues arise in the Bay Area, their operations are inevitably affected. 

“As the Bay Area sees an increase in drug overdose cases, that regional trend can lead to more medical issues on BART that require a police response and delays,” said BART public information officer Christopher Filippi. 

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When trains are delayed for a significant amount of time, they can have a cascading impact on other trains on the same line.

Police-related delays cause a sizable share of all of the transit system’s disruptions, accounting for 26% of delays between April and June last year. In an October board meeting, BART representatives attributed the majority of its disruption issues to police activity, catastrophic equipment failures and pandemic-induced staffing shortages. 

The increased police presence is intended to prevent incidents before they happen and lessen delays that occur while waiting for officers to respond, said Alicia Trost, BART's chief communications officer.

"With more officers on BART trains we hope to reduce police related delays because the officers will work to prevent incidents from happening, and hopefully, there will be fewer train holds waiting for police to respond," Trost said.

BART train
BART was running with delays Thursday morning. | RJ Mickelson/The Standard