Need a break from mindlessly scrolling through Twitter while commuting on BART? Grab a piece of flash fiction from any one of the rapid transit agency’s newly installed "Short Story Dispensers" — free of charge.

As mass transit begins to slowly recover from the pandemic — mind you: we're not likely to see pre-pandemic levels of traffic on buses and passenger trains for some time — BART on Wednesday revealed it's launching a test run of flash-fiction-dispensing machines in an effort to evoke some COVID-19-free nostalgia.

"Reading a book on the train is a tale-old tradition many BART riders partake in," reads a tweet from the agency announcing the new pilot program. "To encourage reading for those even without a book, BART is piloting touchless [Short Edition] Short Story Dispensers, which print out short stories, at 4 BART stations."

The futuristic machines —which are currently located at the Richmond, Fruitvale, and Pleasant Hill stations; one is also coming to Montgomery Street Station soon — each serve riders one- to five-minute-long short stories in a touchless manner; over 400 stories have since been served to readers over the past two days.

While these machines appear novel, this isn't the first time they've graced the Bay Area. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's North Beach restaurant Café Zoetrope was first in the Bay Area (and country, for that matter) to install these literary vending machines — “anything that brings people together..which art can do, is clearly desirable,” Coppola had previously told BART.

“I read about it and thought it was a wonderful idea,” Coppola, who's an investor in Short Edition, added. “Art dispensed by machine, and for free!”

BART staff, too, hopes to expand and create opportunities for Bay Area writers to be featured with their short stories in a bid to welcome back flocks of riders. For families keen on taking their young ones to snag a piece of flash fiction — the works of Franz Kafka and Joyce Carol Oates are among those presently available to read — don't worry: all the stories are family-friendly and suitable for all ages.

The one-year pilot is sponsored by BART’s Communications Department and its Art Program; each story is printed on recycled paper and readers are encouraged to, themselves, dispose of the prints properly; due to the pandemic, it's suggested that readers not share the physical stories with anyone not in their immediate circle or those not in their household to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19.

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Image: Courtesy of Twitter via @sfbart