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Worn motors, defunct fuses, loose connections, stuck chains, bad transformers, stalled handrails, a kaput motherboard, misaligned rollers, and old brushes: these are a few of the things that stalled BART escalators in January.

They stopped for routine maintenance, too.

I ride BART to and from 16th Street nearly every weekday, enough that I think I have a good idea when the escalator is down.

It seemed to my amateur eye that the street escalator on the northeastern corner has been out of service for a long time, and last week I stopped a service employee to ask about it.

The service guy – who said he was doing routine maintenance at about 5 p.m. on a weekday evening – mentioned that safety mechanisms made it easy to jam the escalator. Gum or a small piece of food dropped by a pigeon can mean bad news.

Because 16th Street BART is all about gum, pigeons, and public urination, its street escalator probably sees more than its fair share of hazards.

The escalator is also outside and open to the elements.

Given the stresses, are 16th Street’s escalators the most frequently downed in the system?

I called BART to ask.

“BART has not installed any safety devices on its escalators that make them less reliable. They have, in fact, made the escalators safer,” wrote James K. Allison, BART’s multimedia managing producer, in an email.

BART doesn’t keep stats on the individual escalators, he said. However, there are numbers tracked station by the station.

BART escalators were available almost 97 percent of the time over the fourth quarter of 2009.

Escalators at 16th Street had 92 hours of downtime in January, in part to install a new transformer. That’s about 12 percent of the time, if it was one escalator. Of course, that’s only 3 percent if averaged over the four escalators at the station.

Over January, four stations had more downtime than 16th Street, and 12th Street in Oakland was the longest, at 651 hours downtime for a major repair.

Nine street escalators account for 43 percent of the nearly 3,000 hours of escalator downtime in January. Street escalators were – as one might expect – more likely to experience downtime than those leading to platforms.

Allison said it was a tossup for the weirdest reason an escalator went out of service, according to BART escalator maintenance memory.

A drunk once decided to sit for the ride down. His buttocks touched the comb teeth, and when he reached the bottom, the teeth penetrated his skin. Stuck and bleeding, he needed the fire department to come and free him.

Tied with the drunkard’s rear is an entire woman’s dress that was removed from one of the steps.

“My question was, where was she?” Allison wrote.

Anrica Deb

Anrica is a science reporter and twice Cal grad, with a degree in engineering and a master of journalism. She's a Bay Area native and lives in Oakland. She's enjoyed wide-ranging professional endeavors,...

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  1. Their downtime rule doesn’t make sense, given that the East escalator at Embarcadero hasn’t worked all of February – well, there was 1 day when it worked in the morning, and then it was down again. And it has been down all of this week.
    BTW, it doesn’t matter if an escalator works from 12am – 5am. It needs to work during the time it’s needed, like peak hours, etc.

  2. I think it’s unfair that the escalators at the 24th st. station always go down on the Inner Mission side and always go up on the Noe Valley side. I asked BART about this and they said they are not required to run the escalators up and down.

  3. No escalators should ever go down. They should only be moving upwards. If you can’t walk down stairs use an elevator of just stay home.

  4. “BART doesn’t keep stats on the individual escalators, he said.”

    Big red flag!

    “BART escalators were available almost 97 percent of the time over the fourth quarter of 2009.”

    Since BART isn’t even open 97% of the time, this is rather unlikely.

  5. Escalators and airport people movers are the most commonly “out of order conveniences” that I see in my travels. I think the safety issue and their constant operation is a weak point.
    They are just that conveniences, please note the appendages which start at your hips and end at the ground they are called legs and feet. The actually disabled use elevators, and the rest of us can use stairs. I am a cardiac patient and when I had pneumonia, I climbed the longest set of stairs out of the London Tube (180 plus steps) It wasa challenge, but it is doable

  6. 4 escalators at 16th street???

    one off the platform
    one in the NE corner
    one in the SW corner

    where’s the 4th?

  7. They schedule routine maintenance to occur on a weekday at 5pm? Brilliant! Some other yahoos probably would have scheduled it for an off-peak hour. What tremendous and bold idiocy!

  8. I think BART should turn off all of their escalators permanently. Consider the electricity they consume. Consider the union labor workforce needed to repair them on a daily basis. Lay them off, and they can fight for MUNI bus driver positions. High school drop-outs unite!

  9. Colin: “If you can’t walk down stairs use an elevator or just stay home.” Well, just wait until your knees start giving out, Mr. Macho! Plus, the elevators are often broken.

  10. Hey derek, the high school drop-outs must include you too. G join the line before it’s too late!

  11. Sounds like BART is taking a page out of my former employer’s book.

    “We don’t track individual escalators, but I can report that at least one escalator at 16th street station has been working 97% of the time. We are declaring SUCCESS.”

    “But the up escalator has been broken for two weeks straight”

    “I SAID SUCCESS, SIR!!!!!”

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