Almost Nobody Feels Safe on San Francisco Area Public Transit, Government Survey Finds

A Bay Area Rapid Transit train / Getty Images
May 11, 2023

Only 17 percent of Bay Area residents feel safe on local public transit, and overwhelming majorities say crime and homelessness are out of control in the system, according to an official survey released this week.

The Bay Area Council commissioned the poll to understand why Bay Area Rapid Transit ridership remains woefully below its pre-pandemic numbers. Per the survey, the problem is less a rise in remote work than widespread concerns about safety and cleanliness. Forty-five percent of local residents cited those issues as the main reason they don't use BART, and 78 percent said they would ride more often if the trains and buses were cleaner and safer.

"As the BART goes, to some degree the Bay Area goes," Bay Area Council president Jim Wunderman said Tuesday in announcing the poll's findings. "So this is a serious situation."

The survey could undercut a push by California Democrats for a $5 billion bailout of the state's public transit, which faces an even steeper fiscal cliff. Advocates of the bailout, led by state senator Scott Wiener (D.) from San Francisco, have argued that public transit is essential for reducing carbon emissions and promoting "equity."

But the poll found that Bay Area residents express relatively little interest in lower fares or expanded service for BART. Instead, their top priorities are cleanliness, ejecting violators, adding more police, and improving lighting. Residents overwhelmingly say agency officials fail to adequately address criminal activity and violence, drinking and drug use, and homelessness. Seventy-three percent are worried about being the victims of crime when they ride BART.

Asked whether BART should focus on cleanliness, safety, and reliability or on helping the hundreds of homeless people in the system access support services, Bay Area residents support the former by more than two to one, according to the poll. That finding comes after San Francisco in the last fiscal year earmarked nearly $668 million for homeless programs and another $75 million for drug treatment services, only to see the problems intensify.