BART seat hogs safe from board clampdown

The BART board of directors expressed concerns Thursday about a proposal to impose fines for passengers taking up multiple seats on trains, saying they fear the regulations would be too broad and could lead to targeting homeless people and train delays.

The ordinance was proposed by director Joel Keller and would make taking up more than one seat on a train punishable by a fine of $100, $200 or $500, depending on the number of violations.

Keller said at Thursday’s board meeting the issue mainly regulates itself and he didn’t intend the ordinance to be enforced on nearly empty trains. Instead, he said he hopes police will use discretion in when to enforce the rule.

The fines would be a tool in case a dispute between passengers escalated on board a crowded train. Officers would be able to take action in the event a passenger refused to move, Keller said.

But several directors expressed reluctance to pass an ordinance that didn’t explicitly state it only applied to crowded trains and worried some passengers would report people sleeping on nearly empty train cars, particularly homeless passengers.

BART director Rebecca Saltzman said:

“If we can’t get specific on this being on crowded trains, there’s no way I’ll support this … I’m concerned about how it will be implemented, not necessarily by our law enforcement but by the public.”

Saltzman also raised concerns that by pulling BART police onto crowded trains to enforce the rule, trains would be held up, delaying passengers during some of the busiest transit times.

BART police Chief Kenton Rainey warned he would be hesitant to enforce the measures at first, starting with what he called a “soft rollout” that would involve public outreach and warnings.

Rainey also asked the directors to be as specific as possible in the limitations to enforcement, avoiding words like “crowded” and instead defining commute hours for enforcement.

Director Robert Raburn read a statement from the BART Police Officers Association that warned the ordinance could lead to further train delays, that the majority of the people affected by the law would be homeless and that officers might need to use force to remove a non-compliant person from the train.

The directors decided to try and improve the ordinance to take such concerns into account and planned to reconsider it at their next meeting in April.

BART accessibility task force chair Alan Smith spoke in favor of the ordinance in principle, saying he in part hopes it can deter bicyclists who block three or four seats and refuse to move:

“It’s unfortunate that common sense doesn’t always prevail on the train.”