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BART Needs Its Own Bouncers for Crowd-Control 

Tuesday, Dec 23 2014

White-gloved train "pushers" are ubiquitous in Japan's metro rail system, where passengers have never truly enjoyed the luxury of "personal space." But to spectators from other countries, train-stuffing is crazy enough to warrant its own YouTube genre. One popular clip from 2008 shows a crowd of commuters being shoved through a pair of sliding doors — knees buckling, shopping bags askew, coattails nearly catching in the door cavity; the train looks more like a stock car for conveying cattle than a passenger vehicle.

In the U.S., and particularly in the space-conscious Bay Area, that kind of scene would never fly. On Muni, drivers can call a central dispatch at moments of severe overcrowding and request more buses on certain routes. On Caltrain, the conductor determines whether a car has reached its capacity, and will advise people to quit trying to cram onto the train.

BART operators sometimes try that gambit, but they also depend on passengers' common sense. Unlike buildings, BART trains don't have a fire marshal to enforce their 107-person estimated capacity per car. If a person fainted and medics couldn't reach him or her in time, it's not clear who is legally liable.

Thus, it's up to riders to "self-regulate," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost says. If a train seems too crowded, then step aside and wait for the next one. Or visit BART's website to find out the exact number of cars on the next train. When a local news producer groused that his 10-car train had been swapped for an eight-car conveyance, customer service representatives advised him to catch the 10-car train that arrives 10 minutes earlier. BART's ticketing system allows it to keep accurate data on where people enter and exit the system, Trost explains, and it constantly adjusts train size to meet the changing demand.

That's good news to the burgeoning population of Type-A commuters who have helped boost BART's daily ridership to more than 400,000 (it's projected to hit 750,000 by 2025). Overcrowding isn't an intractable problem, Trost says. There's even a feature on BART's website so commuters can check out how crowded each train car is — and adjust their travel time accordingly.

Still, it's an imperfect system. BART relies on its passengers to use common sense, in gestures as small as setting backpacks on the floor and moving to the center of the aisle. Should an emergency occur, it's up to those passengers to let the train operator know — which could prove challenging on a packed car. BART has developed its own forms of triage, with crime-reporting smartphone apps and PSAs about proper etiquette.

Maybe it's time to hire a BART bouncer — a burly, bearded, nicotine-drenched version of the pushers in Japan — to control the crowds on the train.

Not likely, spokesman Jim Allison says. "Some cultures are more comfortable being packed in," he adds. "But we'd probably have the political will to get more cars before it got to that point."

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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