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The World's Most Expensive Lid: BART Devises a $2 million Solution for its Excrement-Clogged Escalators 

Wednesday, Jul 3 2013

In a press release trumpeting a prototype canopy to shield the portals to subterranean transit stations, BART board president Tom Radulovich admitted, "Our escalators take a beating ... from people who don't use them for what they're intended."

Reached for comment, Radulovich confirmed that "Yes, that means what you think it means."

Being a BART escalator repairman is a steady job. But not a pleasant one. Human excrement is often mashed into the inner machinery, serving as a fecal monkey wrench. And urine isn't just unpleasant, notes Radulovich, it's also corrosive. Vast quantities of urine interacting with metal is a recipe for structural and electronic failure; millions of soccer-mad fans unwilling to miss game action and head to the men's room led to serious corrosion at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium. The same thing has happened beneath your feet on the BART escalators, sans the sports-related excuses.

One day, hopes the BART board president, canopies keeping out the rain and equipped with cameras and gates to keep away defecators may grace all the stops in San Francisco, as well as on Oakland's Broadway, and in downtown Berkeley. For now, however, the prototype is slated to go up at Oakland's 19th Street Station. Its price tag: upwards of $2 million.

Is that a lot of money for a canopy? Sure, concedes Radulovich. But costs are always higher for a sole prototype. Canopies similar to this design were recently installed in Washington, D.C.; the economics of mass production got the costs there down to, perhaps, less than $1 million a pop, he says. In BART's case, the construction costs for the prototype are $1.35 million, and the costs for design and management are each $400,000.

This kind of expenditure may actually be cost-beneficial when you factor in the time and money associated with turd-clogged escalators.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is no stranger to rudimentary yet alarmingly expensive structures. In 2010, Muni spent $829,000 on a pair of ticket kiosks serving the same function as a ticket agent seated at a card table and hawking his wares.

The prefabricated restroom installed in the Panhandle, meanwhile, cost $531,219, per a 2007 memo. That restroom is closed at night. Those in need have been forced to seek out nearby escalators.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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