Finishing the long winding, beautiful ride that is the Coastal Starlight, I hopped off my finally long distance route at Oakland’s Jack London Station. My father and stepmother rolled up to collect me and the excitement with which they embraced me was exactly what I needed at the end of the trip. As we made our way over to their neighborhood, I was excited to be back in the Bay Area, but also ready for real sleep.
After a solid night and day’s rest, it was time to go find the BART social media team. Internet friends and fellow numtots, I had been watching Seung and Alicia’s come up this year and they have had a tremendous one. From taking on Elon Musk to finding lost wedding rings on board, the responses of this small team have been fantastic to experience from afar. We grabbed a light lunch before tucking into all things transit.
What has it been like addressing the public response to the testing of new fare gates?
We’ve had a drop in ridership on nights and weekends. Riders specifically mentioned lack of fare evasion enforcement as something they are unsatisfied with. While this happens at every transit agency in the world, and there are those that will say there is no win when it comes to fare evasion, we had a tremendous drop in approval ratings. One part of this we have to combat is the assumption that fare evasion is tied to homelessness. There are Bay Area programs that provide free and discounted fares to help people achieve better economic stability. We want to make sure people can get to health appointments, job interviews, important life moments safely and affordably. We’ve just received grant money to support our needs based system giving a 20% discount to all participants who qualify.
We have to talk about the horrible tragedy of what happened to Nia Wilson in Oakland. She was murdered on the platform by a man whose last interaction with BART Police was when they gave him a citation for fare evasion. We had to have difficult conversations and try to work towards a solution. We have been told by our riders that they want us to address this and it’s a complicated issue with many social advocates involved. While there is the ideal situation of free public transit, we aren’t being given the kind of money that would make free transit possible on this scale. We are reliant on fares to keep things running at this point in time.
While the board was saying we may need new fare gates, the current gates still have about 20 years of use left in them. Most were replaced 8 years ago. It would cost millions to replace, so how could we modify the current gates without changing the proprietary software. So we had a few options.
One was stack the gates, put a fare gate on top of a fare gate. Those, while they look very strange, some people are worried the leaves are gonna come down on their head, they were designed by safety engineers. The bottom leaves move first, if they are stopped, the top leaves will stop as well. We are watching video, physically monitoring how this option functions, how riders respond to it.
The other option is a pop up leaf making it more difficult to jump. What we learned is that the aesthetics of this are horrible, people will still jump over, it’s one of those great examples of how if more thought had been put into the user experience, as opposed to a quick solution, we would have less problems with them. In September, we are going to have a larger conversation about next steps. The idea was to modify existing infrastructure with respect to usability, technology, and safety. We need to consider, aesthetic, usability, design, how to do this in a way that is cost effective.
Can we talk about the Elon Musk tweet?
We have been honing our strategic messaging, one of those messages had been “How many people can transit carry in comparison to roads and bridges” It was a late Friday, and someone had tagged us, Chicago, and a few other cities saying “what do you think of this tweet?” Instead of just passing it by, I said wait a minute! We literally have the data set to show not only is this inaccurate we have a really nice graphic that shows how his statement was inaccurate. I thought about it for 30 mins, what would the pushback be, do I have data to answer follow up questions? I felt confident sending the response, but I did not know it would blow up with retweets and advocates support like that. We’re already 100% electric, we have the data and analytics to support our statement, that hit him right where it hurts. I remember putting my phone down after making the tweet and when I picked it up again the retweets and larger conversations had already started. It’s okay for transit systems to protect their brand and advocate for themselves. People asked me if I “got permission” for that tweet. I don’t need permission, this is public data. We need to create conversations about transit funding in America. This grew into a national conversation and we need more of those successes in a digital space. I was surprised he backed down from responding considering he is known for picking and sticking with fights. But it wasn’t really about him, the point he was trying to make was inaccurate and we had the data to prove it. It could have been anyone that said it but it was a terrible way to look at transit.
How does your team handle day to day engagement on social media?
We learned, we need to be able to talk to anyone about anything on social media. If you cuss at us, we’ll still get back to you. We are not here to just pass that info along, we want to make sure we are responsive in engaging our riders in a way that helpful and educational. Everybody has their idea of what solutions are best, we want to hear that as well as take it to the board. Sometimes transit conversations can be heated, even amongst friends and family members. We are seeing thousands of reactions in real time beyond the conversations most people have within their circles. Every topic can lead to a moment of learning for all of us.
We love talking to the public about improvements, rebuilds, we just finally got FTA funding we have been in need of. They literally called us 30 mins before we had planned a Twitter Town Hall to inform us we were receiving the funding so we could celebrate together as opposed to getting bashed for not releasing the funding. We have to be willing to stand up for ourselves and social media is a great way to build our tone, our message, our strategy. Something is building. Not just with us but CalTrain, Chicago, NYC, DC as well… We should all be at the same table, representing different parts of the same common goal. People’s livelihood depends on our service.
After a lovely day with the team. It was time to head to my last foodie destination; La Fromagerie. I had worked with Ruben and Tomas at a previous job and was excited to get to catch up with them, this time at their Montgomery St. location. My stepmom enthusiastically agreed to accompany me for early dinner and we rendezvoused in Oakland and took the train across the bay.
Adjacent to the station, this gorgeous little eatery is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with sandwiches, salads, charcuterie, and sides. Though it started as a small cheese shop in the dogpatch in December 2012, it has grown into so much more. As the catering expanded in 2014-2015, they opened additional locations and expanded their commissary kitchen.
While we caught up and snacked, we discussed how strategically expanding with locations access to public transportation being prioritized in location hunting not only helps customers get there, it helps staff too. Having public transit methods improve staff retention, it creates security for workers to know they will be able to make their commutes efficiently. Reducing the dependency on cars, employee parking spaces, the cost of maintenance, the amount of Co2 emissions, its an economic win for all.
Ruben and Tomas brought over sandwiches and a salad for us to share. Classic, bold taste served in colorful clean arrays. The gents did not disappoint. We started with Le Provençal a vegetarian sandwich with Bucherondin, Roasted Red Pepper, Artichoke, Tomato, and Arugula served on fresh soft bread prepared specially for La Fromagerie each morning. This is a perfect lunch sandwich, light fresh and full of flavor. We followed this with a special sandwich Le Parisien – Jamon de Paris, Cave Aged Gruyere, Cornichons, and European style Butter. The guys laughed as my stepmom and I both lit up as we tasted this deliciousness. It was all the classic French flavors in one perfectly balanced bite. Our last course was La Mancha, a giant Kale Salad topped with Smoked Duck Breast, Manchego, Dried Figs, Fresh Pear, Pepitas and Apple Cider Honey Vinaigrette. This is one of their top sellers and for good reason.
The rest of my week was spent cooking at home, riding the bus and train to visit family, editing the blog, starting on new RPA projects, and getting some much needed downtime. I have a lot of love for the Bay Area despite its growing pains. This was a real great last stop for Summer by Rail and as I look towards the future, I will be sure to value the words of my friend Seung at BART “We should all be at the same table, representing different parts of the same common goal.”