Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officially responded to its handling of the recent planned protest by disrupting cell phone and wireless services on 11 August 2011. People were upset, including a few of its own Board Directors.
While it shouldn’t have taken this long, BART officially released a letter to its customers on a Saturday afternoon. Read below from Bob Franklin, BART Board of Directors President, and Sherwood Wakeman, Interim General Manager.
BART’s top priority is to ensure the safety of its passengers. 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.
Imminent Threat of Unlawful and Dangerous Activities on BART Platforms
July 11 Protest
On July 11, a group gathered at the BART Civic Center Station in San Francisco to protest the fact that, on July 3, a BART Police Officer shot and killed Charles Hill at that station.
During that protest, one person climbed on top of a train and many other individuals blocked train doorways and held train doors open. During the course of the event, which occurred during the peak of rush hour, individuals used BART trains to move between stations, and caused the shutdown or partial shutdown of other stations.
These actions violated the law by creating a serious threat to the safe operation of the BART system, disrupting the service of 96 BART trains (approximately two-thirds of the trains operating during the rush hour), causing the closing of stations, and putting at risk the safety of thousands of passengers and BART employees.
When trains are not able to move or pick up passengers, the platforms can quickly become overcrowded. This is very dangerous due to the increased possibility that people will fall from the platforms onto the trackway. The trackway is five feet below the platform edge and contains the electrified 3rd rail.
Also, when one train stops, all trains behind it must stop. In some cases, trains must stop in tunnels, which delays the arrival of emergency medical help for passengers in need of assistance. Additionally, self-evacuation by passengers in underground tunnels is another potential dangerous outcome of interference with BART service.
Planned August 11 Protest
Early in the week of August 8, the BART Police Department received credible information that individuals were planning a surprise demonstration against BART police shootings at specific BART station platforms on August 11. On August 10, BART Police obtained further information regarding the individuals’ plans for color-coded teams to conduct lawless activity on the platforms. The additional information disclosed detailed organizational coordination among multiple “affinity groups” in addition to the organization that had sponsored the July 11 disruption.
The August 10 intelligence revealed that the individuals would be giving and receiving instructions to coordinate their activities via cell phone after their arrival on the train platforms at more than one station. Individuals were instructed to text the location of police officers so that the organizers would be aware of officer locations and response times. The overall information about the planned protest led BART to conclude that the planned action constituted a serious and imminent threat to the safety of BART passengers and personnel and the safe operation of the BART system, at a level that could far exceed the protest of July 11.
Based on that assessment, BART decided to interrupt cell phone service at targeted portions of its system for up to 4 hours, beginning at 4:00 p.m., the time that the individuals were scheduled to assemble. BART notified the affected cellular service providers shortly before it implemented the temporary interruption. Service was turned back on at 7 p.m., earlier than planned, when safety concerns abated.
At the affected portions of the BART system, there was no cellular service on the platform level, and service on the concourse level was also affected in some areas. Cellular service was fully available at the street level and at all above-ground BART stations and trackways.
BART took prudent measures to protect passengers during the time that cell phone service was unavailable. More than 120 extra BART uniformed Police Officers and Operations personnel carrying radios and wearing reflective vests were assigned to be in the four downtown San Francisco stations and on trains traveling between those stations. Additionally, passenger courtesy phones on the platform were available to provide direct communication with Station Agents. BART also has intercoms at each end of each train car, allowing passengers to contact the operator for assistance. No passenger emergencies were reported to BART during the period of the cellular service interruption.
First Amendment Issues
For more than 25 years, BART has had a policy regarding the exercise of First Amendment free speech rights in areas of its stations where it can be done safely and without interference with BART’s primary mission of providing safe, efficient and reliable public transportation services. To implement this policy, BART has designated the areas of its stations that are accessible to the general public without the purchase of tickets as unpaid areas that are open for expressive activity upon issuance of a permit subject to BART’s rules. To protect public safety and provide safe and efficient public transportation, BART has restricted access to the “Paid” and “Platform” areas of its stations to BART station employees and ticketed passengers who are boarding, exiting or waiting for BART trains.
BART’s temporary interruption of cell phone service was not intended to and did not affect any First Amendment rights of any person to protest in a lawful manner in areas at BART stations that are open for expressive activity. The interruption did prevent the planned coordination of illegal activity on the BART platforms, and the resulting threat to public safety.
BART’s Future Plans
At a special Board meeting on Wednesday, the Board will discuss the temporary interruption of cell service on portions of the BART system that occurred on August 11, and we invite the public to participate in this discussion.
Thank for your patience and we value your continued support.
Bob Franklin, BART Board of Directors President
Sherwood Wakeman, Interim General Manager
[photo via Personal Finance Advice]