The Bay Area Rapid Transit, better known as BART, is the Bay Area’s electric-powered, rapid transit, public transportation system. BART works to provide safe, clean, reliable, and customer-friendly regional public transit service that “plays such an important role in not just keeping people mobile and the Bay Area accessible, but also the financial well-being of the Bay Area community,” said Alicia Trost, Communications Director at BART. “When things don’t work at BART, things don’t work in the Bay Area.”
Trost’s comments are no exaggeration. In an area known for its record-setting traffic, BART transports over 420,000 riders a day, removing over 28,000 cars from congested highways during rush hour, saving an estimated 200,000 gallons of gas, and reducing commute times significantly. A BART disruption, especially during commute hours, causes a ripple effect that impacts the entire region. “People need us,” said Trost.
“The Bay Area is expanding, and we’re expanding with it. We passed a major bond measure that is letting us rebuild the system. We’ve opened new stations. We’re introducing a new fleet of cars. We’re taking old sections of track out and replacing it with state-of-the-art equipment that will last double, if not triple, the life time,” said Trost, “but there was a disconnect. No one wanted to talk about that. They wanted to talk about what we’re doing to address the quality of life issues and the resulting safety concerns that have been pushed into our system as of late.”
In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency after finding that roughly 2.1 million Americans suffered from opioid use disorder, contributing to more than 17,000 deaths and costing the country an estimated $504 billion. During the same year the rate of homelessness rose slightly nationwide, with spikes in a handful of states including California. BART’s enclosed stations and easily accessible trains make the system an attractive location for people looking for shelter.
But again, BART is a transit agency primarily funded by fare revenue from the riders. Its budget is not part of a city or county that also has services for those in need. BART is not structured to address the health and human services costs and complexities that are currently impacting the customer experience in a very real way. This is BART’s reality.
BART’s ability to respond in a timely, personalized, transparent manner is rewarding for the mission as well. Engagement has increased; in 2015, BART had a total of 13,000 mentions across major social media platforms. By 2017, BART had 60,000 mentions. “And that’s just people tagging us. We know there are people talking about us without tagging us,” said Trost.
It also helped to build brand affinity. BART has personal conversations in real time with people they might not otherwise have access to—people like elected officials, reporters that surface in social alerts, and the general public. “We’ve actually had people tell us the reason why they voted yes on our last big bond measure was because of our transparency. They understood why this funding was important, and the impact it could have on the overall system,” said Trost.