Security versus Privacy on Transit

At a time when Bay Area traffic congestion has become the 2nd or 3rd worst in the entire country it is disturbing to find transit ridership dropping. In order to reverse this destructive trend a greater effort must be made to identify, reduce and ultimately eliminate the factors that are causing people to turn away from transit-riding at a time when more transit riding is needed. These factors include slow speeds, unreliability, wait times, gaps in service, lack of comprehensiveness and the sometimes bad behavior of people at bus stops, in stations and on transit vehicles. In this article we will deal with the behavior problems that scare off or otherwise deter many would-be transit riders.

Bus1Most transit patrons are intent upon getting to their destinations and prefer to be left alone to read or use their cell phones. But in today’s world that is often not possible. It doesn’t take a million dollar study to recognize that riders who frequently witness or experience fare evasion; panhandling; spaced out drug addicts; drunks sprawled across two or three seats; loud music; abusive or profane language; sexual abuse, theft, and obnoxious or even threatening behavior are less than happy with the situation. Some riders don’t much care what they encounter during their transit trips. But others care a great deal. It is a certainty that bad in-station and on-car behavior is causing many would-be transit riders to turn away.

So what to do about the problem? Putting attendants or perhaps policemen on every train car and every bus might help…but it’s unrealistic to think that the transit properties could afford to provide that level of personal security. Establishing and posting clear rules of behavior would let riders know what’s regarded as unacceptable, but is unlikely to constitute much of a deterrent. Another security measure that has not as yet been adequately provided at bus stops, in stations and on public transit vehicles is video surveillance. It is well established that the law permits video surveillance in ordinary public places, excluding bathrooms and other locations generally understood to be private.

We are convinced that most riders would much prefer to be video-taped than offended, bullied or victimized. To detect and apprehend, or perhaps deter bad behavior, cameras should be mounted where and as necessary. And it goes without saying that to be effective a video surveillance system must be accompanied by effective monitoring and follow-up action as appropriate.


Call or write BART directors or Jake Mackenzie, Chair of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission. You can also make a difference by joining BATWG.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 7. Click here to go back to the newsletter.