The last year or two have seen an increase in the presence of homeless people riding BART trains, many of them using the trains to sleep and waking up at the end of the line when the system is shutting down. This has led to more being stuck at stations until morning, and sometimes taxing the ambulance system.
Some stations, like SFO and Fremont, offer buses that shuttle people back to shelters at cities like Oakland and San Francisco. But as the Chronicle reports, other end-of-line depot stations like Pittsburg/Bay Point are up to five miles away from the nearest shelter, and offer no bus options for people getting off the last train, which arrives around 1:20 am. Some will choose to camp out nearby until they can begin riding trains again at 5 a.m., but others, especially in colder months, will dial 911 in the hopes of spending a few hours in a warm emergency room.
The Contra Costa County 911 call center will receive up to seven calls in a night from Pittsburg/Bay Point Station. This adds a strain to the system that could mean increased ambulance wait times for residents facing serious medical emergencies.
Former SF homeless czar turned BART director Bevan Dufty tells the Chronicle, "One thing we’ve learned is at 5 a.m. when stations open, there are people sleeping at the gates. And because of how easy it is to fare-evade, they just flood the system."
The apparent increased presence of homeless people in the BART system comes at a time when the latest homeless census numbers suggest spikes in overall homelessness throughout the region in the last two years. Contra Costa County saw a 43% spike, and Alameda County saw the same 43% rise.
BART Director Debora Allan recommends an overnight shuttle at Pittsburg/Bay Point station that would take willing people to the closest available shelter in Concord. This suggestion is based on the observation of people getting off the 1:40 am train, most of whom ask for directions to the next bus. Currently, no bus or shuttle is offered, meaning most sleep at the station or wander to nearby storefronts. However, the county homeless outreach program now has a task force — contracted with BART — who patrol the station from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., offering free rides to the shelter, granola bars, water, and socks.
At SFO, the rise in homeless people exiting the last train into the airport has led to an increased SFPD presence at the station. Police and station agents help to lead people to the SamTrans bus stop, where they can catch a bus that runs all night and will help them get to a proper shelter. Currently, there are around 30 to 40 interactions with homeless per day at SFO, or around 1,100 per month, up from 712 a year ago, as the Chronicle reported in April.
SFO spokesman Doug Yakel told the Chronicle that there has been "a disproportionate number of riders on trains [who] are homeless," and the airport asked BART earlier this year to begin conducting sweeps of the trains before they arrive at SFO.