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Can BART and Anonymous find ways to communicate that avoid station shutdowns?

By dcuff
Monday, August 22nd, 2011 at 11:21 am in BART, trains.

BART riders are wondering if the third protest in six weeks at the Civic Center station today will end up with station closures and service disruptions again. Will a relatively small number of protesters –  perhaps 150 during the last demonstration - create a strong enough showing that BART officials will close stations out of fear of unsafe conditions with crowded train platforms during the rush hour? 

Or will even larger numbers of protesters show up? The 5 p.m. protest is the latest run in between BART and critics of transit police over officer-involved shootings. A BART officer shot a knife-wielding homeless man to death July 3 at the Civic Center station. Spurring the protests is Anonymous, a shadowy, loosely knit group of hackers whose participants say they are not really a group but a cause against government repression. They are angry at BART for shutting down underground cell phone service August 11 to thwart a protest from being organized and carried out.

Who is to blame for the station closures during two protests? BART officials say the protesters are to blame for creating unsafe conditions or threatening to create them. Click here for a story on BART’s public explanation.

 Officials say one only needs to look at what happened during a July 11 protest when protesters pushed and shoved on the crowded platforms, held doors open to delay trains, and climbed on the top of a train. As for the temporary cell phone service turn off in underground stations, BART officials say it was a minor inconvenience to preserve train service and protect public safety from disruptions on the station platforms.

 

BART critics blame BART for closures. The critics have posted tweets saying BART didn’t need to close stations. In electronic messages and signs at protests, the critics have said they want BART to disband its police department, fire BART chief spokesman Linton Johnson, and admit that the transit system was wrong to have cut off underground cell phone service to thwart a protest. That act was despotic behavior, the critics say. Some tweets have castigated the media for not understanding that Anonymous is not a centrally organized group, but more of a spirit shared by individuals who chose to do their own thing.

San Francisco Weekly last week published an online interview with a French woman who claimed she alone was responsible for hacking into the BART police officers’ union web site last week and posting 102 officers’ home addresses, e-mail addresses and passwords. The woman offered dual motivations: She was upset at BART turning off cell phone service, and she got a kick out of breaking into the police union web site. Click here for that story.

BART officials say it’s grossly unfair to punish train riders by disrupting train service because protesters have a beef with the transit agency. BART Board President Bob Franklin has scheduled a special BART board meeting for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Oakland to consider a policy on whether and when the cell phone service is turned off again in underground stations. It’s more appropiate for the BART critics to speak up at the public forum in the board meeting rather than try to disrupt train service, Franklin said. Click here for a story about the meeting.

So far the protests have not had huge impacts on BART ridership, although they have inconvenienced some riders who have found downtown San Francisco stations closed when the customers wanted to board trains.

BART officials told a San Francisco newspaper that that the closure of four stations Aug. 15 led to just a 3.3 percent drop in overall BART ridership that day. There were 329,000 riders that day, compared to the average Monday passenger count of 340,700. Click here for that story. Some of those riders probably opted not to ride BART that day. Many other riders, though, were caught up in the confusion at the closed stations, and it made for a miserable day trying to get home from work.

To be sure, the protests have become a significant challenge to the train system that prides itself on keeping order and running trains on time.

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