Efforts to prevent homeless people from setting up camp inside BART stations has resulted in a lot more homeless spending their time riding the trains themselves. Today the San Francisco Chronicle reports on the numbers it got through an FOIA request:
BART embarked on a “blitz” operation in April in which agency police officers and yellow-vested staff members swarmed downtown San Francisco stations at dawn. It mainly targeted fare-jumpers, but BART also discouraged homeless people from camping in station halls and on stairwells…
Combined, these measures led to a sharp drop in transients in downtown San Francisco stations, from 142 that BART staffers counted on a weekday in May 2018 to 47 on a weekday in June of this year.
But on trains, the numbers are climbing.
Staffers in BART’s marketing and research department counted an average of 160 homeless people for every 100 cars on weekends in April, May and June, up from 79 transients during the same period last year.
Not surprisingly, the numbers are highest in the winter when the number of homeless people is nearly 300 per every hundred train cars. The increase in the number of homeless riding the trains coincides with an increase in reported crimes, including violent crimes. In June, the Chronicle reported robberies were up 128 percent over five years while aggravated assaults were up 83 percent. Those figures appeared in a Grand Jury report which specifically cited homelessness as a major contributor to declining ridership.
And that’s the big problem for BART. The train system was never intended to be a living space for the homeless but that’s what it is becoming. Recent ridership numbers suggest people don’t like it.
The financial stakes for BART are high. The transit agency relies on fares for more than two-thirds of its operating costs, but some fed-up riders are peeling off. Ridership peaked at 128.5 million passengers in 2016 and has fallen for the two years since — to 124.2 million in 2017 and 120.6 million last year.
That slump could get worse. If people encounter unsavory or erratic behavior — particularly drug use or mental illness — in the confined space of a moving train, “it’s a deal breaker,” Dufty said.
Many passengers have no choice but to take BART. Some who were riding to work Tuesday said they’ve grown resigned to scenes of obvious despair.
“It’s really sad to see homeless people sitting down passed out, or sleeping on trains, or sometimes going to the bathroom on a seat,” said Heather Hood of Oakland. “Yes, it sucks as a rider. But it’s also sad to know that’s the only place people feel safe.”
It’s definitely sad but that’s not a reason to allow the homeless to turn BART trains into a safe space on wheels. Getting homeless people off the trains would be simple enough since most of them aren’t paying to get on in the first place. But it’s likely that shuffling them off the trains would result in many of them setting up camp in the stations again. That’s where all of this started. Last year, news video of addicts shooting up on the floor of BART stations created a public stir and calls to clean up the stations. But having these people passed out on trains, taking up multiple seats and, frankly, smelling up the place, is arguably even worse than where this started.