Surprise: BART Elevators Are Filthy and Poorly Serviced

Every night when Juma Muhammad comes home, his wife scrubs his wheelchair's wheels with bleach before he rolls through the door. It keeps him from tracking human waste across the floors where his 16-month-old son plays, but it doesn't protect him from skin infections he believes come from riding BART's germ-ridden elevators.

Bathrooms in 12 BART stations — including four along Market Street — have been locked since 9/11. Instead, some folks use BART's elevators as Porta-Potties, grossing out wheelchair-users, cyclists, parents with strollers, and anyone else requiring the lifts.

Muhammad, who regularly rolls through Civic Center station, wears latex gloves in the elevators but still got a severe facial infection after touching the buttons.

"This is a big public-safety issue," says Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco (ILRCSF). "They say if there's a problem to call the station agent, but they're left dirty. It's obviously not a priority."

BART has 22 to 33 service workers on duty at any time, four of whom are assigned to the downtown stations. One of their jobs is to scrub the elevators twice daily, plus whenever they're fouled, says spokesman Jim Allison.

"Nowhere is the quality of your work showcased better than in the elevator, where there is a virtual 'captive audience,'" says a page from the BART service workers' handbook. "John Q. Public should be able to ride our elevators without worrying about stepping on trash, foul odors, or rolling over unknown substances." Mopping, deodorant soaps, and Lysol ensue.

The problem actually predates the 2001 terrorist attacks. Berkeley's Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) led a class-action lawsuit against BART in 1998 over elevators' frequent breakdowns and feculence.

"When we brought our case, 50 percent of the time, people who needed to use the elevators were encountering filth," says Larry Paradis, DRA's executive director. "They had floors rotted out from all the urine."

These days, BART doesn't track how often elevators are defiled or unavailable during cleanup. It does offer free tokens for the public loos on Market Street — another condition of the DRA settlement. Although there are eight restrooms within walking distance of downtown stations, they're frequently broken or dirty.

ILRCSF has pushed for more cameras in elevators, helping BART police catch tinklers in the act. Violators face a $250 fine and up to two days of community service, Allison says.

It may be security theater, but BART plans to keep the bathrooms closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, Muhammad has dealt with the problem his own way: His wife now drives him to work.

 
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10 comments
gramywheels
gramywheels

As a long time wheelchair user who has used BART since its inception, I find the elevators a horrible excuse for a transit system.  I hate that visitors to the Bay Area I love experience this.  You need to keep in mind that  I don't just get it on my shoes, but it gets on my hands.  My hands touch my tires that have to run through the awful mess and believe me although the availability of hand sanitizer has helped, it doesn't  really do anything for the fact that I can't get what I have on my hands or very expensive gloves out of my thoughts. 

 

Now,  I also want to say  that a large number of the people who are using the elevators as urinals do not really have an alternative, because in our far-sighted wisdom have chosen to make being without a home (and thus a bathroom) illegal.  If we did as many metropolitan cites in other counties and provided public toilets we could solve the problem.

Fifty Ville
Fifty Ville

Install see-thru doors in the elevators.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

If there's feces and puke everywhere, it's not meeting my transportation needs. Besides, Bart is a government agency; it's obligated to do whatever the voters decide.

Otrannel
Otrannel

BART is a transit agency. It meets your transport needs. It's not obligated to do more.

Ry Holman
Ry Holman

What do you have to say to those with medical conditions? Working toilets are a very basic human necessity for proper sanitation.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

"Suck it up" is not a valid policy. Humans have needs, those needs are not being met by Bart.

Otrannel
Otrannel

And yet, it is. Such is life. Suck it up.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

One time I was on Bart and suddenly felt the urge to vomit (turned out to be the worst food poisoning I've ever had.) Thankfully I was in Oakland, where I could get out and run to the bathroom. If I was in SF? I would have had no choice but to puke all over the platform. So you can take that "I'm better than you because I plan ahead" bullshit and shove it up your ass. You can't plan for everything, and providing sanitation services required by every human body should not be considered optional.

Otrannel
Otrannel

I have the intelligence to avoid drinking large quantities of liquid when I know I won't have access to a restroom for a long period of time. The scenario I described was a typical occurrence before BART restrooms were closed, and if they are re-opened to the public again (highly unlikely), it will be again.

Otrannel
Otrannel

What's to stop meth heads from locking themselves in the can to shoot up and lay about all day? Terrorism is a legit concern and is not the only concern.

 
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