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Inside San Francisco’s Worst Elevator: It’s Broken Down 73 Times This Year Alone

Written by Garrett LeahyPublished Sep. 12, 2022 • 6:38pm
Carlos Gomez, a Laguna Honda resident, exits elevator #57, BART's least reliable elevator in San Francisco, Calif. on September 12, 2022. Gomez has had to go to Powell St. BART Station to access the street after taking BART when either elevator at Civic Center station has broken down. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

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BART’s Civic Center station platform elevator has broken down six times since Aug. 11. 

The elevator, known as Elevator #57, has broken down 73 times this year so far—typically for less than three hours according to BART

Elevator #57 is the least reliable elevator in BART’s San Francisco stations, with more breakdowns than any other BART elevator in the city. 

It’s cramped, smelling faintly of cigarette smoke and urine, lined with metal and two windows, one of them shattered, barely illuminated by a dingy, yellow fluorescent light. 

“Sometimes I have to go to another station,” said Carlos Gomez, who uses an electric wheelchair and lives at Laguna Honda Hospital. “Sometimes they don’t announce [elevator closures] and I have to backtrack.”

Gomez said that three months ago, he nearly missed an appointment as Elevator #57 was shut down, meaning he had to go to Powell Station to use the elevator that takes passengers to the street, and then catch a bus.

“It bums me out, it adds stress,” Gomez said.

Biker Craig Low walks towards the exit of Civic Center Plaza after riding up elevator #57, BART’s least reliable elevator. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Craig Low, who was bringing his bike off BART, said that elevator shutdowns at Civic Center are especially annoying because the closures require bikers to carry their bikes up the stairs.

“It’s hard to carry a bike, because in San Francisco it’s a big stairwell,” Low said.

Elevator #56

Branko Romano outside the Civic Center BART elevator #56. Due to an infected knee, Romano hoped to use the elevator to enter the station, only to find it closed. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The other worst offenders in the city are the nearby Elevator #56, which runs from the street to the concourse at Civic Center, and BART’s 24th and 16th Street station’s elevators.

Elevator #56 has been out of service 31 times this year, 32 times when you count Monday’s visit by The Standard, when it broke down again. It’s usually out of service for less than two hours, BART said. 

Wheelchair user Patrick Caldwell is well versed in the problems of Elevator #56. He says it’s barely wide enough to fit his motorized chair into and often breaks, forcing Caldwell out of his way to get the train.

“Last time I had to go to Powell,” said Caldwell. “Had to hop on the bus.”

As Caldwell entered the elevator and the doors closed, a familiar scenario played out.

“It’s freezing up, nothing is working now,” said Urban Alchemy elevator operator Ansarul Haque, chuckling nervously as he hit the emergency call button.

Shaking his head in silent frustration, Caldwell settled in for a wait, opening a game of solitaire on his phone.

After taking the elevator from the BART platform to the concourse, Gomez encountered the same broken elevator as Caldwell, and knew he would have to backtrack.

“See, now I gotta go to another station and come back,” said Gomez.

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And Branko Romano had planned to take BART to meet a friend in Santa Rosa, when he was greeted with a sign he knew all too well: “Street elevator out of service.”

“Oh you gotta be kidding me,” said Romano.

It was bad luck for Romano—who has an infected knee, meaning a walk down the stairs is too painful to bear.

“I gotta hope the escalator’s working, or I’m out of luck,” Romano said.

BART said the elevators often went offline due to vandalism which prevents the doors from functioning properly and shuts the elevators down.

“We have requested SF Prop K funds ($65M for elevator modernization in SF). We are always looking for revenue sources we can leverage for our modernization needs,” said a BART spokesperson. 

Zack Deutsch-Gross is an SF Transit Riders (SFTR) activist pushing for more reliable urban transit.

“SFTR believes access to transit – especially for those with limited mobility – is fundamental to an equitable, sustainable and thriving San Francisco,” said Deutsch-Gross.

Despite elevator shutdowns, BART says that the elevators at Civic Center BART servicing the street and the BART platform are operational for 98% and 97.2% of service hours respectively. 

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Garrett Leahy can be reached at [email protected]




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