BART board members balk over ‘seat hog’ rules

Some BART directors might be showing buyers’ remorse for an ordinance narrowly passed in April criminalizing “seat hogs,” which some directors feared would target the homeless, delay trains and waste police resources.

As BART police Chief Kenton Rainey presented a draft enforcement policy to the board Thursday, one director who voted for the ordinance, Gail Murray, objected to its language as too strict.

The law passed 5-4 in April. It bans people from taking up more than one seat during commute hours, defined as weekdays between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Violators will be warned the first time they’re contacted, and then will face an escalating series of fines: $100 for the next violation, $200 after that and $500 for each one after that.

Rainey said officers enforcing the rule will need to detain individuals, take down their name, and check whether they have any outstanding warrants, even when issuing a warning to track who has been warned already. The officers would keep a careful eye whether the person needed mental health services.

After the initial warning, violators would get a citation, then a notice to appear in court and the fourth time they would be arrested, Rainey said. The penalties would take effect on Oct. 1, after a month of outreach and verbal warnings.

BART Director Nick Josefowitz, who voted against the ordinance, distributed photos at the meeting that he said he took this morning of a man sleeping on a BART train and two women with bags on the seat. He questioned whether it was a good use of police resources to detain these people, check them for warrants, and issue a formal warning.

Murray agreed, particularly in the case of a woman with her purse on the seat next to her, saying that people should be given a chance to comply with the law before they are formally warned:

“If they comply, I don’t see any reason to take some further action. … I would like this to be more permissive, at least in the beginning.”

Josefowitz and Director Rebecca Saltzman reiterated their objections. Josefowitz said:

“We have a lot of problems in our country. … We have a lot of problems in our district. This doesn’t seem like one of those problems. We’re just creating problems.”

Saltzman said she recently took BART to San Francisco International Airport for a flight to Chicago. Despite it being 8:30 a.m., she said her train car was not crowded so she put her suitcase on the seat next to her. Then it dawned on her that she soon would be breaking the law.

But Director Joel Keller, who introduced the ordinance, said the law was necessary because each time he boards the train at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station he sees numerous people sleeping on the train.

While he acknowledged that the ordinance could cause problems with train delays, he said the other directors should give it a chance to take effect. He also said he would like to see rules requiring people to exit the train at the end of the line, like in Pittsburg.

Keller said:

“We at some point need to get serious about whether BART is a homeless shelter or provides transportation for people.”

Director John McPartland also continued to support the ordinance and said if anything the police chief’s draft policy was too liberal and “overly generous”:

“I grew up in an era when if I was doing something wrong and somebody told me to stop, I probably would. … And certainly if someone with a badge shows up and tells me to stop I would. And we’re going to give them four shots at this?”

Thursday’s presentation was only for information and required the board to take no action. The ordinance is still slated to take effect in September.