Bay Area Rapid Transit made a deadly miscalculation last year — one that built on years of reckless decisions to value efficiency over safety — and nobody was ever held accountable. That’s not acceptable for a public agency, and it’s time for the people who made these decisions and the elected officials who enabled them to come clean and make amends.
Last year’s contentious contract negotiations between BART management and employees was marked by an ugly union-bashing media strategy and dangerous brinksmanship that forced two strikes. During the second strike in October, two BART workers were killed by a train operated by someone management was training to run replacement service to break the unions.
Whether that driver’s inexperience directly caused the deaths is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, but we do know that this tragedy was a direct result of the “simple approval process” that made these workers responsible for their own safety even though they couldn’t see or hear a train coming with enough time to safely get out of the way.
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has been battling with BART for years to change this dangerous procedure that had killed workers before, but BART chose to aggressively litigate the mandate at every turn instead doing the right thing, finally acceding after these latest avoidable deaths.
DOSH last week concluded its investigation of the October deaths, finding BART guilty of “willful/serious” safety violations and leveling the maximum fine allowed by law, a mere $210,000. Civil wrongful death settlements are likely to reach into the millions of dollars, and the NTSB could soon bring more punishment down on BART.
But real accountability begins at home. This reckless management strategy should be an issue in every one of this year’s reelection races for BART’s Board of Directors, each of whom are culpable and none of whom have challenged the decisions by General Manager Grace Crunican and Assistant Manager of Operations Paul Oversier in any serious public way.
This arrogant agency has abused the public trust and been hostile to reasonable public oversight, whether that involves its trigger-happy Police Department or its callous disregard for the safety of workers and riders, something its unions have been calling out for many years.
The California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment unveiled damning evidence of BART’s lax safety culture during a hearing in November, and it’s time for the Legislature to follow up and give DOSH the authority and funding it needs to hold BART and other serial safety violators accountable.
Voters should also consider replacing current elected directors this fall (we’ll offer our endorsements then), giving special consideration to those who want to clean house and change a management culture that is hostile to safety and its workers.