Will This Tech Dude Bring BART Into 21st Century?

Aug 29 at 10am

As BART approaches its 42nd anniversary of operation, it’s clear to see that signs of old age are beginning to show. No longer is it the marvel of mass transit it used to be back in the '60s when President Lyndon B. Johnson oversaw its groundbreaking. Today it carries 400,000 riders daily through its unkempt, piss-smelling, ghostly tunnels and stations, lumbering around when it isn’t delayed or mysteriously stopped by BART police. The fact is, despite San Francisco’s status as a technological giant, our transit system is behind the times, a situation that could perhaps be blamed on ineffective leadership. At least, 30-year-old Harvard graduate, tech entrepreneur, and future name-on-a-ballot, Nicholas Josefowitz thinks so. He’s trying to oust James Fang, the only Republican on the BART Board of Directors, and make some lasting changes to bring BART in-step with San Francisco’s progressive side.

“I’m running against a guy who’s been in office 24 years. He pleaded guilty to money laundering, and has the worst attendance record of any other BART director” Josefowitz told Re/Code.net in a recent interview, which seems like more than enough of a reason to change up the old guard. Not to mention that a Republican transportation leader in a city as liberal as SF does seem odd, although Fang has defended his affiliation, saying that it doesn’t matter “if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice.” The problem is, Republican or Democrat, BART is literally not catching any mice.

But perhaps a more relevant reason for Josefowitz’s attempts have to do less with the trains, and more with the ongoing housing crisis. When BART stations were originally built, the plazas surrounding them were an interesting attempt at creating space, but now those wide open tracts of land are in high demand and could be used for housing, if planned the right way. What’s more, BART stations are usually located in the heart of Bay Area neighborhoods, and are very desirable to those commuters flooding into the city en masse. Trust me, if you’re willing to live in an 8x10 room just to work near the tech sector, being upstairs from a train station would likely be the least annoying aspect of living in San Francisco and its surrounding areas. Talking about the 16th and Mission plaza, Josefowitz says, “There’s a Burger King and some one-story buildings. BART should be a partner in development.”

With endorsements from many of San Francisco’s key figures, including current BART director Tom Radulovich, along with Josefowitz’s experience in renewable energy power plants and infrastructure through his company Rengen, the effort to clean up and upgrade BART into a 21st century transit system seems more likely with a fresh techie perspective than with an old school bureaucrat. One thing is refreshing, instead of the usual techies abandoning BART with their private buses, at least one is trying to use his tech skills to fix the system rather than avoid it. 

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Photo by Paul Sullivan

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