San Francisco BART tweets with a vengeance after ‘terrible service’ gripe

Published 6:51 PM EDT, Fri March 18, 2016

Story highlights

A commuter says on Twitter that he's fed up with service after a BART electrical problem

BART tweets back that an aging infrastructure is to blame

So begins a fiery exchange between BART and commuters about "This Is Our Reality"

(CNN) —  

It began as a gripe about train service on Twitter. Then it exploded into a surprising exchange when San Francisco’s BART system didn’t back down, describing its aging infrastructure as, “This is our reality.”

Some took offense at what they saw as snark. Others praised it as candor.

The San Francisco storm on social media comes days after commuters in Washington, D.C., also complained online about a temporary shutdown systemwide this week, but the West Coast transit agency near Silicon Valley showed a greater willingness to jump in and engage passengers directly.

In all, a Gizmodo writer counted 57 tweets of “truth and honesty” by BART in response to myriad complaints.

It started when BART tweeted during the Wednesday afternoon rush hour that “all our efforts are focused on resolving the electrical issues right now – apologies for all the trouble. We’re working on it.”

That was enough to tick off one passenger after a long day’s work.

“How much does one need to apologize before one realizes they truly offer a terrible service and should no longer apologize?” tweeted Christopher Chappel of Oakland.

Chappel kept tweeting.

And so did BART.

In fact, the government agency seemed to grow confidence: San Francisco’s light rail system just wasn’t built to handle today’s populations, BART said.

Then, an offhand remark in a closing sentence gave birth to a hashtag: “This is our reality,” BART added.

BART’s apparent defiance fired up Marilyn Droukas, who just about had it with the train service, saying she was “sick of paying $12 a day for a crappy ride.”

Well, BART said, the transit service is planning a 49% increase in its fleet of train cars.

Then another commuter jumped in. Bethany Girod asked if the rails could handle the additional cars.

“I keep dealing with delays due to probs on track/track maintenance. Clearly rail life is wearing thin,” Girod tweeted.

BART is installing a harder steel for rail, and today’s train cars are lighter, the agency said. “We get a lot of life out of our rail,” BART said.

And so it went, back and forth, attracting national attention for its unusual frankness.

Once the dust settled, several commentators weighed in on the propriety – and possible hidden agendas – of BART’s tweets.

“.@SFBART’s #ThisIsOurReality smackdown on snarky Twitter users is a lesson in civic education,” the startup CivicMakers tweeted.

Several people praised BART’s “honesty” and its reminders about the importance of investing in infrastructure. One person named Elisabeth described it as “the best genuine public engagement I’ve seen maybe ever.”

Another commuter rail service, Caltrain, expressed support.

“We support @SFBART’s honest voice,” Caltrain tweeted. “Thanks to the #BART team for starting a great national discussion.”

Advancing its cause, BART director Rebecca Saltzman posted a photo showing four badly worn out rail spikes pulled from tracks last year, in comparison to a new one. It was a stark image of four old spikes that seemingly shrank from rust.

San Francisco Weekly, however, saw an ulterior motive to BART’s messages.

“We like @SFBART’s ‘honest tweets’ as much as anyone, but there’s a reason behind the engagement: BART needs money,” the publication said.

The weekly even published a story about “The $3.5 Billion Reasons Why BART is Tweeting Honestly.” The BART Board is considering asking voters to approve a bond measure for that amount of money in November.

“Several political types observed almost immediately the direct link between BART striking a conversational tone with riders who will, before they know it, be asked to give BART more money at the ballot box,” the publication wrote. “Is this BART engaging in campaign tactics, or capitalizing on a service disruption to remind riders that BART needs money like whoa?”

By Friday, commuters tweeted about the new day’s woes.

“Three separate delays on BART,” tweeted San Francisco Chronicle reporter Rachel Swan.

So went the morning’s reality.