Most BART Riders Escape Tickets for Eating and Drinking

Around a decade ago, BART moved to boot all food vendors off its property. The delicious story behind that decision told by old agency hands is that a former BART director sat on a half-used ketchup packet and saw red.

Last month, BART pulled a 180, pushing to boost revenue by upping the number of food vendors in its stations. With patrons soon more able than ever to tote hot meals and sandwiches along with their oversize flagons of coffee, will BART revisit its longstanding bans on eating and drinking in its soft-seated trains?

The official answer? No. The real answer? It doesn't much matter. You have better odds of dying from a lightning strike than being cited for eating or drinking on BART — by a lot. Last year, BART ferried some 105 million riders. Only 299 of them were cited for eating or drinking, making your chances of being nabbed just one in 351,172. (According to the National Safety Council, you have a one in 81,701 chance of being fried by a lightning bolt.)

There's a reason so few people are cited for eating and drinking. Agency spokesman Linton Johnson confirms that a "signage problem" has resulted in "tickets not always sticking." Signs in stations and on trains forbid "food and drink." Yet the actual penal code mentions "eating and drinking." The difference is enough that "clever lawyers," in Johnson's words, have managed to beat their clients' eating or drinking raps enough that the ordinance is largely meaningless.

The "No Food or Drink" signs were "designed by an illiterate," bemoans Tom Radulovich, San Francisco's BART board member. What's more, he continues, the signs are often posted in the wrong places throughout stations. You are allowed to eat or drink anywhere in a BART station other than once you get through the fare gates. And you are allowed to tote your groceries or lunch onto a train. You just can't munch on them.

If BART ever does change its onboard food policy, it can take heart that Caltrain — which has always allowed riders to eat and drink — claims it has not yet been sued for a food- or drink-related mishap. The Peninsula commuter rail line "deep-cleans" train cars every 180 days, a process that costs $434,000 yearly — and, keep in mind, Caltrain has only 118 cars to BART's 669. In short, don't expect BART's food-related policies — or realities — to change anytime soon. Bon appétit!

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