BART Removes Anti-Panhandling Signs, For Now

Though the signs will return in a slightly different format, it's started a larger conversation about BART's messages.

BART’s Fleet of the Future has been celebrated for easing everyone’s commute, but not for one particular feature: a sign reading “No panhandling: subject to fine.”

But within 24 hours of someone pointing it out to BART Board members on Twitter, the agency started removing the decals.

Turns out, they were supposed to read, “No aggressive panhandling.” Once BART is done carefully removing the sticky signs from 85 certified Fleet of the Future cars, it will return to add the sign with “aggressive,” says BART spokesperson Alicia Trost. 

“Anti-panhandling laws fail to address the underlying causes of homelessness and poverty in the community, and in fact make it worse by putting arrest records, fines, and fees in the way of those trying to exit homelessness,” said Kelley Cutler of the Coalition on Homelessness last week. “BART seems to need to be educated on why anti-panhandling campaigns are cruel & ineffective.”

Panhandling is a protected form of free speech, federal courts have ruled. Though the old trains have long projected the same sign, it came as part of a larger public notice of expected code of conduct. On the Fleet of the Future trains, it’s front, center, and isolated from the rest. 

But the new decals has BART Board members Janice Li and Bevan Dufty, who represent San Francisco, thinking about what the agency’s signs should or shouldn’t be. They don’t support the anti-panhandling message, and Li said she planned to have a conversation with new General Manager Bob Powers.

“I was a little surprised myself,” Li said after she received word the signs were being removed. “BART should not be in the business of supporting that sort of message.”

Instead, Li thinks BART should continue investing in homeless outreach teams, elevator attendants, and bathroom pit stops, like it did last week

“There’s real solutions we can put in place,” Li said. “Saying ‘don’t piss and poop here’ isn’t going to solve the problem. If our goal is world-class transit, hostile design, hostile signage is not the way to go.”

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