Segways allowed back on BART

Last month, I attended the public meeting of the BART board of directors. After an incident in June, BART temporarily banned Segways on safety grounds. After the accident, BART imposed a blanket ban on all Segway use while a more permanent policy could be developed.

The BART Accessibility Task Force recommended reinstating access for all riders, with some restrictions on the able-bodied. BART staff ignored the recommendation and proposed a policy that banned Segways permanently for all non-disabled users, while disabled users would be required to dismount and push their devices inside the stations. Restrictions were justified on the grounds of safety, with the exemption for the disabled required to avoid a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a listener, I felt that if a blanket ban had been legally feasible, staff would have elected that option.

Seven members of the public, including me, spoke against the policy as an unnecessary restriction. Although I am not a Segway owner, I attended the board meeting to speak against the policy. For the past few years, I have considered buying a Segway to make short-range trips from my home to BART and nearby business areas.

After public comment, the board members discussed the proposed policy. Tom Radulovich was by far the most articulate speaker, and he had clearly thought more about the various issues involved. (I suppose this isn’t surprising, given his work with Livable City.) His common-sense idea started with the statement, “let’s treat people like adults.” With the increasing cost of automobile transportation, BART parking lots are getting full. By allowing riders to arrive at stations on bicycles or by Segway, BART could potentially reduce demand for costly parking. For many riders a car is the best option, but alternative vehicles are especially useful for the one to three mile range. Radulovich also argued that BART needed to avoid a situation where they made rules so restrictive that they would be encouraging riders to turn to cars instead.

Other directors supported Radulovich. Lynette Sweet pointed out that non-disabled riders were not creating problems and there was no justification for the ban. President Gail Murray mentioned a knee problem, and said that the morning had been eye-opening because she had learned about the Segway as a transportation option for her. Tom Blalock mentioned letters from other users, some of whom I recognized from the Bay Area Segway Group. One director has never seen a Segway on BART, and can’t believe that they are so numerous to be problematic.

The lone holdout was James Fang, who tried to get the staff policy adopted while promising to revisit it at a future meeting. However, he made it clear that he supported the restrictive policy as written. Bizarrely, he compared a restrictive Segway policy to airport shoe screening, arguing that both were conservative policies designed to prevent great harm. (Many security experts disagree with Fang on the shoe-screening policy, and much else about the TSA.) He also argued that it was appropriate to restrict able-bodied users more than disabled users, as a kind of affirmative action for past discrimination by BART against disabled riders.

After discussion, the BART board adopted a policy of permits. I applied for permits on the second day they were available, and I received permit #7. Now I just need to rent a Segway to see if it works for my commute. Further bulletins to follow…

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