BART’s elevators have long been a problem. They’re creaky, frequently broken-down, filled with puddles of urine or piles of feces, and always threatening to get stuck. It’s not uncommon to spot commuters opt for lugging their bikes on their shoulders up flights of stairs, or awkwardly perching strollers on escalators, to avoid taking the mysterious, smelly boxes to and from street level.
The city hasn’t completely ignored all this, but all attempts to alleviate the issue failed. Three years ago, BART replaced the floors in all 27 system elevators, adding splash guards along their walls to prevent urine and other liquids from damaging the equipment.
But this week, a new pilot program started that adds an important human element to the solution. Two elevators — one at Civic Center, and another at Powell Street — will be staffed with attendants during the hours that BART is open in an attempt to deter bad behavior. The pilot program will run until November, at which point both BART and Muni officials will make a decision on whether or not to expand the system to other stations.
Elevator staff have long been associated with fancy hotels or office buildings, but their function — to assist people in getting where they’re going safely — is essential regardless of the location.
“BART has really been focused on what the rider is experiencing, and Civic Center is really ground zero for the frustration that riders feel about homelessness, about people that are mentally ill, about feeling unsafe late at night,” said Bevan Dufty, a member of BART’s Board of Directors. “Having clean and safe elevators makes the whole difference.”
While monitoring elevators in our aging train system’s stations is not exactly a glamorous job, it’s a noble one; helping disabled BART and Muni passengers who are incapable of using the stairs get safely to and from the street is no small feat. And the new positions also offer an employment opportunity: They’re being staffed by Hunters Point Family, an organization that empowers youth, adults, and formerly incarcerated people. (You may have already encountered people from this program as they staff many of the Pit Stop public toilets around the city.)
Founder and co-executive director Lena Miller said the new elevator attendant pilot program is another chance for employment for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“We are tasked with bringing a sense of security and safety to areas that have become chaotic and we are excited and we are honored to do it,” Miller said. “We are going to work hard to transform this area to a place where everyone can feel safe and can be proud of.”
The attendants are only the latest effort the BART Board has made to clean up the notoriously filthy stations. For the past few months, Dufty and Sup. Hillary Ronen spent Wednesday mornings rolling up their sleeves and tackling the mess — including trash, feces, urine, and dead animals — at the 16th Street BART station plaza. The collective call for better cleaning services worked; cleaning shifts at 16th Street were upped from six per week to 14, and an extra janitor was brought on. In addition, both the 16th and 24th St. station plazas now receive four hours of power-washing per night, instead of one.
In the end, it’s about basic human respect for the city’s transit riders, regardless of their physical ability.
“For too long we have heard from some of those riders that the worst part of their trip was the elevator ride,” said Ed Reiskin, SFMTA’s director of transportation. “We want that dignity for riders whether they’re in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller or with a suitcase.”
Daniel Montes from Bay City News contributed reporting to this story.