As the vast archives of the BART Idiot Hall of Fame prove somewhat incontrovertibly, there's something about BART that attracts bad behavior.
Are transgressive subliminal messages implanting deviant thoughts into the subconscious minds of unsuspecting riders? Are some people are just jerks? Whatever the cause, many BART regulars would doubtlessly agree there's a subset of riders whose presence serves to make the entire experience significantly worse for virtually everyone involved.
BART officials have begun an effort to crack down on some of the most egregious offenders with a new policy of issuing temporary bans, stretching up to one year in length, to individuals who break the rules. Getting caught publicly defecating anywhere in the system three times in a 90 day period or assaulting a passenger or BART employee is enough to get someone slapped with a "prohibition order."
"We have those that literally threaten our station agents on a daily basis," BART official Alicia Trost told CBS San Francisco. "We really want to crack down on repeat offenders who are violent on our system, who urinate in the system."
BART's ability to enact such a policy is brand new, only coming into existence at the beginning of January with the passage of Assemblymember Roger Dickinson's (D-Sacramento) Assembly Bill 716 last year.
The impetus of the bill was the increasing frequency of incidents of violence committed against BART employees. "I was a station agent for almost 22 years, and I saw my share of repeat offenders," Antonette Bryant, president of the union representing BART agents, said in a statement. "This law is important to protect employees and riders. It creates a mechanism to deal with repeat offenders."
Officials insist that the policy includes safeguards--such as the ability to ask to have the ban repealed via an administrative hearing--to prevent people from being blocked from the system unfairly. Additionally, if a ban is given to someone who needs to use BART to get to school, work or the doctor's office, the order can be loosened to allow for those trips.
Even so, some civil libertarians have raised concerns that the policy could be used to crack down on free speech. The San Francisco Bay Guardian reports:
If passed, the resulting ordinance could be applied to protesters, some of whom have been arrested during civil disobedience that has caused rush hour service disruptions of BART's operations, and others who have been arrested in official free speech areas while not directly contributing to a disruption in service.
"It would be preferable if these types of conditions were set by a judge as a condition of probation," said Michael Rifher, staff attorney ACLU of Northern California. "These types of ordinances imposing 'stay away' orders without judicial oversight are an area that is very open to abuse."
Transit systems in Sacramento and Fresno have already put similar policies in place.
People defecating on BART is a serious concern. Last year, when mechanics looked into the cause of a broken escalator at San Francisco's Civic Center Station, they found the machinery had been clogged with a critical mass of human feces.
As one particularly astute SFist commenter pithily noted, "You know what else might stop people from pissing themselves? Bathrooms."
Officials will hold a series of three community meetings in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties throughout the month of February on the proposed policy and hope to begin enforcement sometime in May.