Violent crime up sharply in San Francisco BART stations

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that crime has more than doubled in San Francisco’s BART stations since 2014. The report highlighting the rise in violent crime also suggested that as many as 15% of people riding the trains are not paying fares.

The report released Monday by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury found the number of robberies on the transit system increased by 128%, from 153 in 2014 to 349 last year. Aggravated assaults soared by 83%, from 71 to 130 over the same time period.

Robberies and aggravated assaults combined jumped nearly 16% from 2017 to 2018 alone, according to the report, with robberies spiking 20% and aggravated assaults rising 7%…

Many transit officials link the rising crime rate to rampant fare-beating on the rail lines, which according to the report is significantly higher than BART previously stated. A senior manager at the transit agency told the grand jury that about 15% of riders do not pay their fares — or 17.7 million passengers out of 118 million. BART officials estimate that about 5% of riders evade fares.

That grand jury report identified four factors causing a decline in BART ridership (down 8% since 2016), first and foremost among them was homelessness:

The growing problem of homelessness is not unique to the Bay Area. Poverty, untreated mental health conditions and substance abuse are complex public issues, and have contributed to a nationwide increase in homelessness. Some people ride BART to stay warm and safe and to sleep on trains. However, passengers often do not feel safe sitting next to someone who is unkempt, using drugs or alcohol, or behaving erratically. Of the three homicides on the BART system in 2018, all three perpetrators were homeless, as was one of the victims.

Just this weekend the Chronicle reported that homeless people who ride the trains all day have to be ushered out of the trains when they reach the end of the line stations late at night:

It’s 1:21 a.m. — time for the end-of-the-line sweep at Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station. Two police officers stride onto the platform as the last train rattles in, headlights bathing the concrete landscape.

The officers start at the back of the train and walk toward the front, shooing passengers off every car. Some are sprawled across the seats, using backpacks as makeshift pillows. Several lug duffel bags or bicycles. A few seem disoriented and ask where they are…

“One thing we’ve learned is at 5 a.m. when stations open, there are people sleeping at the gates,” said Board President Bevan Dufty, who is also the former homeless czar of San Francisco. “And because of how easy it is to fare-evade, they just flood the system.”

Not only are these people beating the fare to live rent-free on the trains, they also have a special taxi system when they get stranded at end-of-the-line stations in the winter:

People marooned at the station call 911, hoping to land in a warm emergency room until BART reopens. County records show that paramedics received 610 calls from January of last year through April of this year. Of that total, 486 calls led to ambulance transports.

Last April I wrote about the homeless who were using the tunnels inside BART stations as a drug den. No one wants to put up with this to ride the train, not to mention the risk of theft that undoubtedly goes along with it. Most of the uptick in violent crime involved robberies of phones and other small items. If the homeless are living on the trains and sleeping on the trains, it’s a good bet they are stealing to support their habits on the trains as well.

Finally, one of the other major issues identified in the Grand Jury report was cleanliness. It’s not hard to see how that concern also connects to homeless people living on the trains.