BART Board of Directors candidates for District 9: Michael Petrelis, Bevan Dufty, and Gwyneth Borden (left to right). Photo by Laura Waxmann

The candidates vying for two seats on the BART Board of Directors said on Monday that they are in support of a $3.5 million bond measure that would help upgrade the derelict public transportation system.

During a candidate debate forum held in the recreation room at Mission Pool, the candidates answered questions about much needed improvements to the 44-year-old transit system and shared their plans to ensure that equitable access and capacity needs are met in the long-term. 

Three of the six candidates present –  politician and former San Francisco supervisor Bevan Dufty, activist and local blogger Michael Petrelis, and Golden Gate Restaurant Association Director Gwyneth Borden –  are competing to become the director for BART’s District 9. The latter covers stations in central and Southern San Francisco including both stations in the Mission District.

Audience members – some of whom were members of transit, pedestrian and bicycle advocacy groups – wanted to know how the candidates would address BART’s long-festering problems such as aging trains, frequent breakdowns, delays and overcrowding.

The candidates were also probed on their stances on pushing for the passage of a $3.5 billion bond measure placed on the November ballot by BART’s board of directors. The funding would be largely allocated towards fixing and upgrading system’s crumbling infrastructure.

“Assuming that the measure passes we’d like to see money go into rebuilding infrastructure, modernizing the communication system that workers use, and money dedicated to overnight service on the weekend,” said Petrelis, adding that  “$3.5 billion is a start,” and that more sources of revenue for BART are needed.

Borden spoke in favor of prioritizing a second Transbay tube to increase rider capacity.

“The future of this region is the tube that can accommodate BART and high speed rail or Caltrain,” she said, though she added that her primary focus would be to shore up current infrastructure.

“I’m very much supportive of the $3.5 billion bond, which doesn’t meet our need of around $10 billion,” she said.

Other candidates also agreed that additional funding is needed beyond the bond to ensure that BART remains an accessible, equitable, and viable alternative to car ownership.

Drawing from his four decades of experience as a politician, Dufty said that he would lobby for funding at the state and federal level.

“The federal government is locked away from transit operations,” said Dufty. “We need leadership to go to Washington and say … ‘we need to be investing in transit operations.’”

Petrelis said that he is in favor of taxing “the banks and tech companies” that benefit from their proximity to BART stations.

“Many of them are getting a free ride, and that has to end,” he said.

But Will Roscoe, an engineer who is running to represent District 7, which includes parts of the Bayview, Mission Bay, SoMA, and the East Bay, said that while immediate funding for upgrades is necessary, he urged voters to “think beyond the tracks’ in terms of the transit system’s future in the Bay Area. 

“We can’t assume that same technology that’s been available since industrial age is going to serve the transit agency when we have self driving cars today,” he said. “We need to think much bigger than dumping money into this same technology that was available before dial up internet.”

Despite varying backgrounds and visions, harmony reigned among the District 9 contenders, whom one audience member described as being “best friends.”

“We have a lot of agreement between the three of us,” said Petrelis, adding that his real gripe is directed at BART board president, Tom Radulovich, whom he is currently vying to replace.

The Mission resident’s campaign began two years ago when Petrelis “grew dissatisfied with the unsanitary conditions at the 16th and Mission Streets BART Plaza,” which include pigeon waste, debris, and dirt. After two decades on the board, Radulovich announced last month that he will not be seeking re-election.

Petrelis has been crusading for sanitary improvements at the plaza, involving Public Works and other public agencies himself when his requests for service went unanswered at the BART Board, he said.

Borden too said that she would focus on sanitization, but also on equity.

“Cleanliness of stations is at its worst,” said Borden, adding the district’s new director must think about “how we are responding to our low-income population.”

Borden, who currently serves on the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said she would focus on decreasing fares and extending subsidies regionally to target low-income commuters outside of San Francisco.

Lateefah Simon, a youth advocate and candidate for District 7,  said that she would push for the creation of”transit-oriented housing across all metro stations” to ensure equity.

Candidates differed, however, on their perspective on labor unions.

When asked about his position on transit worker strikes, incumbent District 7 director Zakhary Mallett, who recalled two labor strikes that crippled public transportation in 2013, said that he would work to ban them.

“I feel that transit workers going on strike creates a profound impact on most vulnerable populations and disable them from getting to work,” he said.

Dufty, who said that he is running as a “pro-labor candidate,” disagreed.

“I’m disappointed that some of current leadership of the BART board sought to vilify working people who have the right to bargain and to strike if their bargaining efforts are being met with resistance,” he said.

San Francisco voters will decide on November 8 which candidates will best represent them and their districts on these issues.

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4 Comments

  1. I am all for the future, and the wonderful technology we will develop in that future. But when some engineer arrogantly calls for us to move beyond “pre-dialup” tech – and then cites SELF-DRIVING CARS as some sort of improvement over train travel – I cannot help but think,”well jeez, no wonder we have so many people in the world who are paranoid, resentful, or mistrusting of technological advances.”

    Forks and spoons are pre-dialup, and we are perfectly happy to use those. (Someone even tried to improve on this design – alas, the spork is more of a joke utensil than anything else.) Some things just don’t need constant redesign and improvement, unless some external factor alters the environment they are originally designed for. And last time I checked, we haven’t grown gills or wings…so I don’t see why a track-based method of shuttling people to and fro needs to be scrapped in favor of…what?? The highway? A self-driving convoy?? Why rely on needless complexity – especially when it has already proven itself to be fatally dangerous – to take agency and autonomy away from the human being by putting everyone into a computer-controlled (and presumably still combustion-powered) vehicle on a highway?? What happens when the computer crashes while turning onto an exit ramp some 60 feet above street level??!

    As far as I am concerned, it’s the highway that needs to be scrapped.

    1. If we’re serious about providing mass transit for most people in the Bay Area, rail is not an option. The systemic problems with rail make it too expensive and inflexible to serve the majority of the Bay population.

      You can see the symptoms everywhere in BART.
      1. BART is proposing a $10+ billion dollar project over 20 years that will result in nearly the exact same service. It will have the same crowding levels and nearly the same schedule and energy efficiency.
      2. Expanding the system today costs more than it did during original construction. ~$700 million per new station. After 44 years BART stations still are only within walking distance of ~3% of the population and 50% of BART riders drive to their station. This helps explain why the Bay Area has more cars per capita than Los Angeles.
      3. There’s only one vender of brakes for the old and new BART trains. This means the vendor can ask almost any price, and BART has to pay them.
      4. New BART trains cost $2.2 million each and have 43 seats. For the same price you could buy 90 minivans for a total of 630 seats.
      5. Trains STILL require an operator despite the fact that the system is essentially a horizontal elevator.
      6. Replacing tracks cost 10x more than replacing roads.
      7. BART rider fares don’t cover even the cost of operation, let alone maintenance and expansion.

      These problems with rail are not unique to the BART system. They stem from the systemic properties of rail. The big ones are.
      1. Centralized control. Trains don’t have steering wheels so they must be controlled central computer system that moves the tracks. This computer system is usually provided by a single vendor. The control system must be updated for every new extension or operational change.
      2. Small volume parts. There are orders of magnitudes fewer trains produced than cars each year. This means that trains are many times more expensive to build than cars.
      3. Incompatible infrastructure. Trains only work on their own tracks so to expand, they must build their own custom infrastructure.

      To draw a parallel to the computer industry, rails are essentially hard wired. Before software, the logic of computers had to physically wired. To change even the smallest part of the logic, nearly the whole computer had to be redesigned. This was expensive and slow. Then software was invented so that changing the computer logic only required typing. Today, massively complex math can be done with only a few lines of code.

      To change a rail system, you must physically rewire it by laying down new tracks.

      I agree that some things (like calculus) invented before dial up internet don’t need to be improved. However, I’d argue that even spoons, forks and plates are improved by burritos and other increasingly popular utensil-less foods.

      Knowing that any significant change to BART will take 10+ years, we need to plan for the technological advances over that time. We don’t want to have a ribbon cutting ceremony with trains that are already decades out of date. I don’t know if self driving electric BUSES will be the best fit for mass transit, but it certainly seems headed in that direction.

      Thanks to limited public and private funding, there have been major advances in self driving capabilities and electric car performance. Now, private companies, including most major car companies, are investing billions of dollars every year to develop both self driving electric car technology. We can only expect the innovation in these fields to increase.

      A self driving electric bus system also solves many of the systemic problems that plague rail.
      * Decentralized: Adding new buses, stations or roads don’t require integrating with a central system.
      * Interoperability: Buses can drive on any road so it would be easy to expand, and integrate other systems
      * Mass produced. The buses would be affordable because they are small (think minivan on a Tesla chassis), produced by major car companies, and used across the globe.
      * High frequency. Small vehicles would enable lower wait times for customers by coming more often.

      So if we’re serious about providing mass transit for MOST of the bay area, we need to start thinking in a new paradigm. It’s obvious from the “Better BART” plan its associated bond that BART leadership is still thinking under the old paradigm.

      Personally, I think BART has the opportunity to create the world’s best transit system in 20 years. This system would be one that where the majority of people the Bay Area to not need a car to access. World leaders would come ride it to get ideas for their own countries. This is not impossible, but would require vision and political will.

      Regardless, BART riders and taxpayers, should hold BART to a higher expectations.

  2. I’m thankful Laura Waxman and Mission Local covered this forum, and that you included my criticism against Tom Radulovich. If there is one thing everyone I speak to about my campaign agrees on, it’s that the sanitation situation at 16th Street is gross.

    BART riders and all users of the public space at those plazas deserves answers from Radulovich about why he’s allow the conditions of pigeon poop and other health hazards to deteriorate so badly.

    It’s hard to believe that as executive director of the Livable City advocacy group, which claims to “support revitalization of the City’s plazas and public open spaces,” http://livablecity.org/about/, he’s done nothing that I’m aware of to have the 16th Street plazas regularly power-washed, fire hazardous debris removed and new anti bird spikes installed.

    Whether wearing his BART director or Livable City hat, Radulovich has been a disaster in terms of making the plazas healthy environments.

    Btw, Ms. Borden’s first name is Gwyneth not Deborah and Ms. Simon’s first name is spelled Lateefah.

    Finally, I hope Mission Local will devote a story just to the filthy conditions at the 16th and 24th Street stations.

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