BART Director Janice Li’s statement on BART’s commitments to the API community

Over the past weeks and months, like many of you, I have been angry and grieving over the violence against the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community — my community.

I have talked with BART General Manager Bob Powers and BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez to discuss BART’s role in rejecting all racially-motivated violence, including violence against the API community, and what BART can do to make sure we are upholding the Safe Transit Policy approved by the board in 2017, which affirms BART’s commitment to make our system “an inviting, equitable, and safe community for everyone who uses our system” and further oppose “hate, violence, and acts of intolerance.”

Some important data points:

  • After growing from 29% in 2014 to 31% in 2016 and peaking at 34% in 2018, APIs make up 21% of BART’s current ridership
  • 72% of API ridership is satisfied with BART, with matches the overall ridership satisfaction
  • Since 2019, there has been a decrease of crimes against APIs recorded by BART police
    • 2017: 19.4% of all crimes involved an API victim
    • 2018: 24.3%
    • 2019: 28.6%
    • 2020: 22.4%
    • 2021 (year-to-date): 20.4%
  • Overall, riders who identify as API do not feel any more or less safe on average compared to overall ridership

Since I was elected to the BART Board in November 2018, I am proud of the following initiatives, which take a compassionate approach to seriously addressing safety on BART without relying on law enforcement or increasing the carceral state.

  • Launching BART’s Ambassador Pilot Program staff to increase presence through uniformed, unarmed, civilian ambassadors, which was formalized as a permanent program in October 2020
  • Creating a new team of crisis intervention specialists to address issues of homelessness, substance use and behavioral health in the BART system with trained social work professionals
  • Expanding elevator attendants to all four downtown San Francisco stations to ensure our elevators are welcoming for our riders, especially seniors, people with disabilities, and parents with strollers
  • Requiring staff to report more detailed statistics to the BART Board on “Crimes Against Persons” through the Quarterly Performance Report

While each of these initiatives required significant investment, I absolutely believe that we continue to be on the right path to improving BART. I also recognize there is a lot more to do to make our system more accessible for APIs. Over the coming weeks, I will continue to work with BART staff to make sure our riders who identify as API feel safe riding BART, starting with a board resolution to be brought forward in early April to condemn the violence against the API community.

As the only API member of the current BART Board and the first API woman ever elected to this body, I am committed to continuing to listen to a wide range of voices across the diverse API community. I encourage you to use this as an opportunity to connect with me and share your thoughts about how BART can be a more safe, welcoming public transit system for our region by emailing Janice.Li@bart.gov.

2020 In Review

Listen, 2020 was trash. But here are two things that give me hope: 1) The Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs and 2) BART is running and continuing to provide some 40,000 trips a day to essential workers. And we have no plans of changing that anytime soon.

I said I was going to do a lot in 2020 after “going 100%” as I put it in my 2019 review. I just didn’t know it was going to be this much, and looking back at one of the most difficult years BART has ever faced (surrounded by seemingly insurmountable challenges across the state, the country, and the world), I couldn’t be more proud of where we are now.

There’s so much I could say even more than what’s below here. More than anything, I want to thank you. Whether you’re a BART rider, a BART critic, a BART enthusiast, or just a friend of mine who clicked a link to read this — you push me and inspire me to be better and be a better leader for the Bay Area and beyond.

The things that were “In Progress” for 2020:

  • Creating BART’s first-ever ambassador program
    • We did it! Read SF Examiner here. A pilot program was approved last January, and ambassadors began walking trains and platforms in February.
    • The new BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez was supportive of the program, and in October, we voted to make the program permanent. Read BART’s press release here.
    • The program has been well-received and we even won Transit Center’s award for “Best Innovation in Public Safety.” Read their announcement here.
  • Auditing BART’s quality of life citations
    • The audit happened! Read SF Examiner here.
    • This effort has grown, expanded and transformed, especially in light of the protests against police killings that surged this past summer after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. If I was busy eating sandwiches on BART platforms in 2019, I spent 2020 passing budgets and resolutions that forced the issue on police reform. Read Mission Local here.
    • With the leadership of our new Chief Alvarez, who began in early 2020, BART has created a new “progressive policing” unit where our non-sworn law enforcement officers (read: social workers, not cops with guns) are engaging with riders in need.
  • Installing a new, high-quality accessible fare gate at Richmond Station
    • This happened! At the end of 2019, I made an amendment to a board decision that made BART staff remove the “double-decker” fare gate that was piloted at Richmond Station with a fully accessible new design. BART engineers rose to the challenge, and that new fare gate was installed in June and it looks great. Read BART’s press release here. That team is continuing to do innovative, in-house design work to continue testing of completely new, safe and creatively-designed fare gates.
New ADA prototype gate in Richmond Station

  • Reforming parking policies and pricing
    • This … this hasn’t happened. Not yet. BART staff is going through Title VI analysis, but I’ve put this on my priority backburner. There have been improvements to the parking payment system but given the significantly decreased ridership and vehicle parking needs, I didn’t push for reforming parking policies and pricing in 2020.

Highlights of 2020:

  • Still got that 100% attendance record!
  • Keeping our system running
    • Avoiding layoffs and fighting for our essential workers (ABC7)
    • Fighting like hell for funding assistance (SF Examiner), which has and is expected to keep BART afloat (read: closing our deficit, avoiding layoffs and running safe, reliable service that matches our current demand) through this fiscal year
    • Passing a Fiscal Year 2021 budget on time in June with $190M in cuts (my Twitter)
    • Approving a retirement incentive program in November to further cut costs (SF Gate)
  • Approving a huuuge contract to upgrade BART’s train control system for the first time since the system opened (SFist)
  • Approving transit-oriented development at West Oakland (SF Business Times) and El Cerrito Plaza (SF Business Times)
  • Supporting more bicycle, pedestrian and transit-friendly improvements at a 100% transit-oriented development at Balboa Park (SF Examiner)
  • Touring two more shops (Concord and Antioch), visiting our new BART HQ that we’ll be moving into in 2021, participating in another late-night walk on the BART tracks and all! of! the! briefings!
  • If for some reason you want to hear some notable comments I made as BART Board Director, here is a whole YouTube playlist

Going 100%: Looking back on Year 1 as an elected official

Highlights:

  • 100% attendance rate at BART board meetings
  • Hiring a new general manager (BART)
  • Hiring a new inspector general (BART)
  • Creating BART’s first-ever low-income fare program (SF Examiner)
  • Holding BART accountable to improving weekend service (SF Gate)
  • Successfully defeating an attempt to ban busking and panhandling (SF Examiner, SF Chronicle)
  • Expanding elevator attendants to all four downtown San Francisco stations (KRON4)
  • Preserving bike access on the Fleet of the Future (SF Examiner)
  • Reopening bathrooms at Powell and 19th Street stations (SF Chronicle)
  • Touring two shops (Daly City and Hayward), attending an overnight Transbay Tube drill, shadowing BART PD twice, endless visits to stations and BART HQ for briefings, tours and events
  • Hosting live agenda reviews before every BART board meeting to engage members of the public and demystify what the board does

In progress:

  • Creating BART’s first-ever ambassador program
  • Auditing BART’s “quality of life” citations and contacts (KQED)
  • Installing a new, high-quality accessible fare gate at Richmond Station
  • Reforming parking policies and pricing (SF Chronicle)

It’s been one hell of a year.

Being on a board is a team sport. For all the highlights above that required board approval, it meant that I had at least four other board members alongside me. I am particularly grateful for Bevan Dufty’s dedication as a BART board president, Rebecca Saltzman’s on-point eloquence on policy, and Lateefah Simon’s emotional leadership in always being a voice for the most marginalized.

You don’t always win, but you do set the win conditions. There were so many times I wanted more and didn’t get it, but it means I learned and am ready for the next try. I’m most frustrated with the continued criminalization of poverty and homelessness and the lack of power I have to combat those attempts on all fronts. I need support, and I look forward to building partnerships and power.

I’m not sure what any other year of BART board work looks like so is this a lot? Or not enough? Either way, I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished in my first year on the board and my first year of public scrutiny as an elected official.

For me, the work is only beginning with so many things in progress. I am learning daily what it means to be a leader, and I am humbled by the trust that people put in me. Believe me when I say I love San Francisco, I love our public transit, and I believe that we can and will make BART a world-class system.

Lastly, I want to give a thank you to reporters for doggedly covering all things BART. Being a reporter is a thankless and woefully underpaid job, and I have a lot of respect for all the reporters covering transportation across the Bay Area. Even when I don’t agree with the hot takes, I appreciate the coverage.