Protection sought for filthy BART escalators

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerGoing nowhere: BART escalators around downtown San Francisco

BART’s street-level escalators, exposed to the elements and the peculiar bathroom habits of some San Francisco citizens, could finally benefit from a little protection.

The transit agency is developing a canopy prototype for its escalators, a device that would shield the moving stairs from the wind and rain while also keeping people away from the structures during ?off-service hours.

BART’s escalators have been notoriously unreliable in recent months, falling well below their availability standards. In May, the availability rate of street-level escalators dipped to 76.5 percent, a historically low mark that paled in comparison to the 95 percent rate the agency had established for itself. Following the dismal marks in ?May, BART dedicated more maintenance staff to repairing the escalators, but the agency still hasn’t reached its goal.

A number of factors contribute to escalator failure, particularly in San Francisco’s urban core. In July, a hazardous-materials team was called to an escalator at Civic Center station because overflowing urine and feces had caused it to shut down.

Ideally, the canopies would help prevent such unseemly situations. The designs are still being developed, so the agency doesn’t have any information yet on cost, timeline and implementation details, ?spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.

Tom Radulovich of the BART board of directors called it encouraging that the agency is considering such shelters. He recalled advocating for the canopies back in the late 1990s, when BART launched an escalator replacement and rehabilitation project. He said he was assured by staffers that the new escalators could withstand the ?elements without breaking down.

Radulovich said such shelters could be complete glass enclosures, gates atop the escalators or simple canopies. He said transit agencies across the country employ similar measures.

Canopies for BART’s four downtown stations could be included in conversations about the Better Market Street project, an ongoing overhaul of The City’s central artery.

With nine stations boasting exposed street escalators, the cost of sheltering the devices could be expensive, Radulovich said. But considering that BART just invested millions of dollars to improve its broken-down system, the investment would be worthwhile, he said. For the past two years, the agency has finished its fiscal years with operating budget surpluses, which have been used to fund capital infrastructure projects.

“I think the escalator canopies are a good use of one-time funding solutions that will improve services and cut down on our operating costs,” Radulovich said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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