BART crackdown on fare evasion also shuts out wheelchair users

Agency to remove latches on SF station gates, look for solution that maintains accessibility

BART recently locked its service equipment exits at some fare gates to deter fare cheats who spirit through the freely swinging doors.

But in doing so, it also locked in wheelchair users.

Now the agency is reversing its move at Civic Center and Embarcadero stations after objections from people with disabilities and the BART Board of Directors, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

BART riders who use wheelchairs have complained about the change on Twitter over the last month, which caught the attention of elected BART officials.

“Civic Center BART now has a latch on the gate wheelchair users have to go through to swipe out,” tweeted Ian Smith, who goes by the Twitter handle @metaforgotten. “In theory this is to prevent fare evasion (lol), but I gotta say, I’m really tired of this thing where ‘ask someone to open the door for you’ is considered ‘accessible.’”

Smith joined the online chorus of people highlighting how the new latches trapped wheelchair users behind fare gates.

BART staff have recently upped their war on fare evaders, who the agency estimates cost it as much as $25 million annually. The transit agency has added fare evasion officers, raised railings, enclosed elevator areas and is considering a $150-200 million “upgrade” to its 600 fare gates to prevent people from simply jumping over them.

Part of that effort also involved latching and locking its service equipment gates at Civic Center and Embarcadero Stations, which freely open and are located near fare gates. Those service equipment exits are designed for BART staff to move in cleaning equipment, for instance, but are often used by people with bicycles and people in wheelchairs trying to exit BART smoothly.

The agency also installed alarms at service gates in eight of its stations, including Daly City, Balboa Park, Glen Park, Montgomery, Lake Merritt, MacArthur, Berkely and Richmond.

Though BART does have widened fare gates exclusively designed for accessibility, they are often located far away from where wheelchair users disembark their BART trains, people using wheelchairs told the Examiner. So when the service gates were locked, wheelchair users were just as shut out as fare cheats.

Sunday Parker, a Salesforce employee who commutes by BART to San Francisco, is an advocate for people with disabilities who has gained a sizable social media following for her mission to make BART accessible to all. In April, she laid into BART for locking her into Embarcadero station.

“It makes no sense because there is another one that fare evaders can use to pass through,” Parker tweeted on April 17. “This ONLY inconveniences people in wheelchairs & bicycles.”

On Twitter, BART initially rebuffed Parker’s concerns.

“Accessible fare gates are the best option for customers who can’t use the other fare gates,” the agency wrote.

But soon BART Board of Directors President Bevan Dufty, BART board directors Lateefah Simona and Janice Li intervened. All represent San Francisco on the BART board.

“BART should be in the business of making its system as accessible as possible for all riders,” Li said. “When BART doesn’t work for people with disabilities because fare gates are locked or elevators are out of service, the problem is far worse than for an able-bodied person like me.”

Though the issue was seemingly still ongoing, BART told the Examiner by email Wednesday that it would unlock the service gates at Embarcadero and Civic Center stations.

“We will work to find a way that will prevent people from bypassing the fare gates but also allow those who took the elevator to be able to tag out when an agent isn’t present,” said BART spokesperson Alicia Trost.

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