Puddle of pee greets BART directors­ at Powell Station


The stench of urine wafted through Powell Station Thursday morning — the norm inside the third-busiest stop in the BART system.

What was unusual were directors of BART’s governing board holding its regularly scheduled meeting inside Powell Station instead of in Oakland inside their board room.

The BART Board of Directors and the public were given a guided tour of the station to have a first-hand look at the issues or  inside the station.

Those issues have been publicly well-known such as people urinating and defecating inside the station, the homeless sleeping throughout the station, drug users, and the condition of the station itself.

Towards the end of the tour, Tim Chan, planning manager for BART and who guided the two-hour tour, took directors to the shared Muni and BART elevator that takes riders to the platforms.

As the doors opened, a puddle of urine welcomed directors. Paula Fraser, BART assistant chief transportation officer, said:

“What’s interesting is often times a we even have a tissue with it.”

Fraser added:

“It is automatically used as a restroom once it goes up to the street.”

BART officials said they want people who need to use the restroom to use the portable and JCDecaux restrooms, which are part of the San Francisco Public Works Pit Stop program.

Chan said BART is working with Public Works in the near-term to put pit stops near the Montgomery and Embarcadero stations.

BART’s underground stations in The City have been closed due to security reasons, but Chan said the transit agency is working on a pilot program to possibly reopen them at Powell and the 19th Street stations:

“We’re not quite there yet.”

The transit agency has also partnered with The City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing in a new initiative that will have a dedicated outreach team focused on the four-shared Muni and BART stations.

Scott Walton from the department said:

“The idea is not that we will immediately remove people. It’s too approach them where they are at. It’s to find out what their needs are to see what pathways are available.”

San Francisco tourism and Union Square business representatives also addressed some of the current conditions inside the station.

Jessica Lum with the Hotel Council of San Francisco said they are not only hearing complaints from tourists, but also from their own employees about cleanliness, safety, and lack of police presence inside the station.

Claude Imbault, director of strategic initiatives for the Union Sqaure Business District, read a testimonial from a Macy’s director about the department store’s employees who now get off at Montgomery Station instead of Powell Station:

“The Powell Street station is nicknamed the toilet due to the over smell of urine while walking in.”

Modernizing Powell

The BART Powell Station will undergo some major changes over the next few years.

First a new ceiling. The station has been without a ceiling for a number of a years now.

Chan said the transit agency plans to begin installing a new suspended metal grid ceiling within a month and complete the installation by Thanksgiving.

Other improvements BART is working on are canopy entrances from the street-level of the BART Powell Station and moving ticket vending machines in the middle of mezzanine level of the station to the side of the station walls.

Chan said this would help free up space inside the station.

Another problem inside the station is BART riders avoiding paying the fare by using the Muni and BART shared escalator, which takes riders to the paid platforms of both transit systems, said Chan.

Part of modernization project includes extending the barriers around the paid area to include the elevator.

Chan said the modernization project inside the BART Powell Station will cost approximately $80 million.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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