Until last week, BART's Twitter account has consisted mostly of a series of apologies in reply to tweets from riders. Exhibit A:
But like much of BART's strategy and infrastructure, saying "sorry" wasn't working. On Wednesday, during a moment of particularly chaotic commuting, instead of apologizing, the guy operating BART's Twitter account earned praise for honest, clear, and big-picture answer to questions. A public institution actually giving answers and being reasonable? Perhaps for their rarity and candor, the tweets went viral. Exhibits B, C, etc.
@shakatron BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
@tquad64 Planners in 1996 had no way of predicting the tech boom - track redundancy, new tunnels & transbay tubes are decades-long projects.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
@kettering No - sugarcoating problems, especially ones obviously disrupting people's lives, isn't an effective or honest way to communicate.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
While BART and its riders continue to struggle today and the agency answers difficult questions about where it's been spending all its money, 27-year-old Taylor Huckaby, who works in communications for BART and tweeted those popular responses from the service's account, has written a long-read for Popular Mechanics all about his perspective on what's going on. To quote his essay:
As the mangled commute progressed, exasperation from people all over the Bay Area began to boil over, particularly directed toward @SFBART, the transit system's Twitter account we manage. And honestly, could you blame them? I got a text from [a coworker] asking anyone available to please break the silence and put an explanation for the crowded commute out online, so I snapped into crisis mode and began replying to as many people as I could.
Somewhere along the way, I replied to a frustrated passenger with what I thought was a fairly standard response, one we had used elsewhere: BART was built to transport far fewer people, much of the system has reached the end of its useful life, and this is the reality we face.
Now, if you were to say that this whole thing smelled a lot like a political maneuver, one to fix not BART but BART's reputation, you wouldn't be wrong. That's something about which Huckaby is also open and honest.
"Public transit has always been about politics," he writes. "and pretending otherwise is either willful ignorance or cynical maneuvering that seeks to capitalize on people's general loathing of the political process. " Again with the candor!
Public funding doesn't just appear like freshly fallen snow. Voters have to approve it. In California, approval for new funding is particularly difficult due to Proposition 13, a sweeping 1978 constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass any kind of revenue-raising measure. Practically speaking, this means that 36 percent of the population can foil the will of the other 64, and tactically speaking, large-scale infrastructure investment measures become nigh-on impossible in non-presidential election years. Plus, public institutions are prohibited by law to advocate for their own bond measures.
That bond measure which BART can't promote would be a $3 billion transit bond that voters will decide in November. How will you be voting now?