An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report details the last few years’ epidemic increase of violent crime on BART, and says the system is losing $65 million more a year to fare evasion than officials have acknowledged.
Getting stuck on a train and having to walk through a BART tunnel is not the worst thing that can happen to you on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. You’ll recall the summer of deplorable teen attacks on BART in 2017, and its most notorious flash-mob swarm robbery at Oakland's Coliseum Station that was aided and abetted by the fact that BART was using fake security cameras. Last year’s stabbing and murder of Nia Wilson at the MacArthur Station made national headlines, but thankfully, there have been no homicides on BART in 2019. (A fatal shooting in March near the West Oakland station was not on BART property.) That doesn’t mean things are looking up, though, as the Chronicle reports that violent crime on BART has doubled over the last four years.
NBC Bay Area digs through numbers, which are not from BART but from an independent Alameda County Civil Grand Jury, and found that robberies are up 128% over the last five years (153 in 2014, 349 in 2018), while aggravated assaults on the system have increased by 83% over that time (71 in 2014, 130 in 2018). Violent crime in general, classified as “homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault,” is up 115% since 2014.
“A lot of these crimes are people getting their phones snatched by juveniles who sneak into the system, and then ride the train to San Francisco or Oakland, where they can disappear really quickly,” BART police union president Keith Garcia told the Chronicle. “Usually there’s a team of two or three or four, so when people fight to keep their property, the people stealing have backup.”
Indeed, BART issued another round of new “Keep your head up and your phone down” type warnings last month.
These bleak figures do have some encouraging details. Auto burglaries of cars in BART station parking lots are down 32% over the period analyzed.
But the overall numbers are definitely alarming, and the grand jury report of course blames fare evaders. There could be some truth this. The Chronicle noted a couple weeks back that a “BART blitz” of the system’s BART police and fare inspectors coincided with a 50% drop in police calls. But the report also says BART is massively under-calculating its fare evasion problem, and says the system loses $80 million a year to gate-hoppers — far larger than BART’s own internal estimate of $15-$25 million.
“When you look from $15 million to $80 million, those are different magnitudes,” said BART board president Bevan Dufty, doing his best Captain Obvious.
But there are clearly broader socioeconomic reasons at work that make blaming fare evaders for this crime increase an over-simplification. People who can afford it are taking Uber and Lyft, so there are lowering ridership numbers of honest folks paying fares. Meanwhile, end-of-line stations are turning into unofficial homeless shelters, and desperate transients are causing something of a demographic change to ridership. The Chron’s Rachel Swan called the system “a laboratory of societal failures,” which BART never intended to be, and the unstoppable force of Bay Area income inequality is giving that laboratory some bad results.