BART’s side of the story on cell phone shutdown

Civic Center BART station
Photo by Greg

For what it’s worth, here’s the official statement from BART regarding its Aug. 11 shutoff of cell phone service in the platform level of some stations:

Prior to a planned protest on August 11, 2011, BART obtained credible information that led us to conclude that the safety of the BART system would be compromised.  Out of an overriding concern for our passengers’ safety, BART made the decision to temporarily interrupt cell phone service on portions of its system. We are aware that the interruption had the effect of temporarily preventing cellular communications for many BART passengers and their families; and we regret any inconvenience caused by the interruption.  We want to take this opportunity to share some of the information that led to this decision.

Read the rest of the statement on


  • Jim

    Well that’s quite a difference from what they’ve been saying the past ten days about there being “no right to free speech” inside the turnstiles and no right engage in “expressive activities” in the paid areas of BART stations.

    We’re just supposed to take their word about the seriousness of the “surprise attack” from people flying in “from all over the country.”

    Maybe BART overreacted? Maybe BART is clumsy? Maybe the BART police have killed more people the past few years than have been killed in all the so-called dangerous and unsafe protests in BART history?

  • JC

    To paraphrase my 4th Grade teacher, Sister Mary Alma, “it’s all fun and games until someone ends up on the tracks.”

    And reading the full statement, there was definitely still an element of the paid areas not being a public forum. Which I’m sure will continue to rub some folks the wrong way. But I would guess it would hold up in court due to the safety concerns they cite.

  • Alex

    Overriding concern for riders’ safety? Since when? This is the same BART that called for violence against train operators and station agents when contract negotiations were going sour[1].

    Sorry, BART’s story has changed too many times for this iteration to have any credibility. It was an asinine move and there’s simply no excuse for what they did. IMO shutting down cell phone service is an example of how dysfunctional BART and BART PD really are.

    P.S. No, “retracting” your statement doesn’t nullify it.

    P.P.S. As you can see Linton Johnson was not reprimanded in the slightest. If you care about safety you don’t encourage confrontations.


  • Funny how not being able to call 911 is part of Bart’s “passenger safety.”

    They need to admit they fucked this up and fire some people. Otherwise, the entire Bart board is going to be voted out next time around.

    • JimmyD

      Aren’t there intercoms or something down on the platforms in case of emergency?
      I don’t trust anyone to call for help in an emergency situation. Most people are too busy taking pictures or video to put on YouTube.

      • I wouldn’t trust those phones to work when I needed them too.

        • Alex

          Really? In earnest: have you ever used one? Do you know how 911 is routed in the tunnel? Does it go to CHP, SFPD, or BART PD? The first two involve a number of transfers to get to the proper agency. The second gives you a direct shot to an apparently trigger-happy police department.

          In addition to intercoms, there are also emergency power cutoffs that won’t require the intervention of a third party.

          If it’s a public safety issue, what do they do at the other underground stations that don’t have cell phone repeaters? What do you do at the MUNI level where the repeaters don’t work (too well, if at all)?

        • Alex, the point is that they shouldn’t terminate a service people expect to exist in an emergency. If you used a Bart station every day and it had cell phone service, don’t you think you’d expect it to work in an emergency? I know I would.

          As for where 911 goes, I’m not entirely certain. I was under the impression that 911 dispatch was based entirely on the phone number you were calling from, in which case a California cell phone would always dial CHP. But I could be wrong about that.

  • Rachael

    Frustrating- the response to the cellphone incident was petty and childish, but BART’s behavior was reprehensible from the beginning as well. This waffling doesn’t actually appease anyone and makes them look even more disorganized.

  • First they came for my cell phones on BART and I didn’t say anything because I don’t ride BART…

  • JimmyD

    What I STILL don’t understand:

    The FIRST protest was suppose to be about the two shootings.
    Why was this protest not held at BART headquarters? Why was the protest not done with permits?

    The SECOND protest was no longer about the shootings, but was/is NOW about BART cutting private cell service that is given, free of charge, to passengers.
    Again, no permit for a peaceful protest.

    And now? What’s today’s protest about?

    BART has issued a statement saying they may not have handled things the best. Have the protesters issued a similar statement?

    Sadly, we live in a time when an apology (or something close to one) is not allowed or accepted.

    IMO: Now the protests are about getting crazy, making noise, and being disruptive, all under the false blanket of a cause.

    Nobody cut city-wide cell service. Nobody’s rights were taken away. No more so if Starbucks decided to no longer offer free wi-fi.

    And what happens when one of the protesters gets out of control and hurt? Like the guy I kept seeing trying to climb on top of a BART train. He falls, breaks his leg, and then… sues BART. Is this in any way productive?

    Go ahead and flood me with THUMB’s DOWN and nasty comments. Until those who do so can come up with a better way to run the transit system (I am talking about BART, not MUNI, who offers no connectivity at all), sod off.
    It’s so much easier to complain about things than to actually try to come up with a workable plan, and then getting that plan in place and working.
    There is the Sarah Palin plan to make things work. She’d say, “Well, just fix it.”
    If only it were that simple.

    • Alex

      Agreed. Why not hold a protest out of sight and out of the minds of the media and population at large? Why on earth would they protest in a highly visible location? I can’t quite figure that one out.

      • JC

        Question – can’t people also protest in the stations outside of the gates? Seems visible enough.

        • Alex

          They can and they did. The above ground protests are a large part of what got the stations shut down in the first place. As they moved down Market, BART preemptively closed stations.

          But, again, if BART were so concerned with protests and safety inside the fare gates… why, after calling for rider + BART employee confrontations, does Linton Johnson not only work there but dictate policy?

        • JC

          Thanks for the response. One last thought – the story to which you linked does seem to me to be evidence of bad judgment on L. Johnson’s part. And most of what I’ve read about his role in this most recent kerfuffle adds to that score. Should he keep his job? I have no idea.

          That said, there isn’t necessarily a relationship between Johnson and BART’s expressions of fear for people’s safety. Johnson can have bad judgment and be bad at his job and BART can be right about the safety concerns associated with protests inside the gates. Just watching the video of people climbing on trains suggests to me that bad things could happen if BART were to encourage or tolerate similar demonstrations inside the gates. So, I don’t buy that because Johnson is the messenger that these demonstrations don’t objectively pose safety issues. I wouldn’t want to be a driver should these circumstances recur tonight.

  • Alex

    (WRT mobile phones)

    In San Francisco 911 calls get routed to the SF emergency dispatch center. In Marin calls gets routed to the Marin County Sheriff. Failing that, by default calls get routed to either Vallejo CHP (NorCal) or Monterey(?) CHP (SoCal).

    If BART routes calls to the CHP be prepared for a wait (I’ve waited on hold for 5+ minutes before being connected to a real person on a number of occasions), and then further wait while they figure out how to connect you to BART PD, OPD, or SFPD. 911 is about the last way I’d want to get help for a BART platform emergency.

    Are most people giving this any thought? Likely not. But it’s never a good assumption to make that 911 from your mobile phone is the best *first* response to an emergency.

    According to BART, the white phones go to the station agents[1]. Yes, that’s problematic at night when there are fewer station agents (or when the lone agent is holed up in the bathroom while a little girl gets caught in the escalator). But… middle of the evening rush? I’d expect there to be enough agents around to staff the phones and enough trains around that you could get a TO to contact BART dispatch.


  • Zach

    And today, yet again, we’re going through the now standard farce of shutting down all the Downtown SF BART stations because about 50 people (that’s SFPD/BART Police’s count) walked down Market St. Listening to the police scanner, their tactics are simple: as soon as the protesters get within about two blocks of the station, they shut it down and shove everyone out.

    BART’s goal here seems to be to cause as much disruption and to strand as many commuters as possible so as to be able to blame the protesters. Given that the protesters are outnumbered at least 2-1 (maybe 3-1?) by police, maybe we could try actually operating transit service, having police maintain order on the platform, and only closing stations if there’s actually a reason to do so?

  • Alex

    It was Linton who took credit[1] for cutting mobile phone service. So, yes, when you let your head PR flak (Linton) dictate BART policy there is a very direct relationship between BART’s public safety policy and Linton’s poor judgement.


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