Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

BART and the Public Relations Battle

Posted by Roobs on July 23, 2010

Just yesterday, the BART Board of Directors approved an alternate funding plan for the controversial Oakland Airport Connector after being denied $70 million from the Federal Government.  They said BART had violated civil rights laws by not considering the projects impact on the low-income communities that the project must go through.  But like a petulant child who can’t take “no” for an answer, BART refuses to give up on this monorail.  In every interview I see with them they appear to be unapologetic about every action.  So that got me thinking, is BART winning the public relations battle and, more importantly, do they even care?

The most damaging from a public perception standpoint was the strongly worded letter from the Federal Transportation Administration denying stimulus money to BART for violating civil rights laws.

From Next American City, a recent post is critical of how BART has positioned itself in the realm of social responsibility.

From local Oakland blog Living in the O, there are 17 negative pieces on the Oakland Airport Connector with quotes from a range of people, from low-public profile advocates to high-profile public officials.

Another local blog, A Better Oakland, has 2 negative posts on the OAC: Catching up on the Oakland Airport ConnectorOakland Deserves Better than the Airport Connector,

From TransbayBlog, there are at least 3 negative posts on the BART project: FTA Holds Back on BART OAC Funding, Disconnect the Connector, Complaint Filed with FTA Against the OAC

At the Examiner, San Francisco (not to be confused with the San Francisco Examiner newspaper) posted a piece on a stern warning letter from Public Advocates, Inc. urging BART to re-think the OAC.

At Streetsblog, San Francisco, they post a not so rosy letter from UC Berkeley professor Carl Anthony who condemns the project for it’s lack compliance with civil rights laws.

Even at the widely-viewed Calitics site, a post takes a harsh look at the campaign strategy BART staff used early in 2009 to push the OAC project.

This YouTube video appears with it’s not so great, but deserving title showing a brief interview with a BART spokesman:

Even the more “mellow” pieces towards BART are not rousing endorsements.

At Streetsblog, San Francisco, a post about BART’s defense to the FTA’s letter expresses a worry-some tone of the project.

At the Port of Oakland, the Board of Port Commissioners was not entirely behind giving some of their precious dollars to BART.  Commissioner Kenneth Katzoff attacked BART’s projections and funding plans citing the still-in-the-red expansion to San Francisco International, expressing worry for the Port’s investment.  The Port did, however, vote to give BART the money with Katzoff voting no.

What about those who are in favor of the project?  Well, that list is much shorter.

The OAC project received support from construction workers and some labor groups who were arguing for the jobs that would be associated with construction.  Some business groups around the area also wrote some support letters and urged members to go to city council and board meetings to voice support.  Note: I did look for links to show this support.  Hard to find.  Hmm.

What does this mean overall?

In the course of about 18 months, there have been at least 28 negative pieces published about BART’s Oakland Airport Connector.  There are probably many more and this doesn’t even include the growing list of public officials who have come out in opposition to the project.  I just don’t have the time to search the entirety of the internet.  On the other side, there is only a handful of groups or stories that have come out to support the project, a list that is even harder to find on the internet.

Overall, this tells me that BART has lost the public relations battle and, frankly, doesn’t care.  In their mind, they probably believe they’ve lost the battle and are giving up because they think they can get the OAC built and will thus, win the war.  Their spokesmen do not come out and address many of these issues nor do the few times they do get much attention in the public arena, largely because their responses are shot down but opponents.  But because BART’s supporters, though less numerous, are “establishment” type groups compared to an opposition composed primarily of grass-roots advocates, BART is just pushing forward, ignoring the criticism of an ill conceived and money wasting project.

It also helps that, for the most part, this is a rather obscure topic to the average resident. Short of transit advocates, public officials and businesses, the average person sees a cool looking Disneyland monorail type system that promises to wisk them from BART station to airport in around 10 minutes. Sweet! (insert sarcasm)

So what is BART’s attitude? “We’re building the OAC whether you like it or not so get on board or get out of the way.”

Will this affect BART?  I would say yes, in the long run.  If BART continues with the OAC project and, like many of their other expansion, does not fulfill its projections and become profitable, the rest of the system will suffer and BART will be faced with a very large financial problem.  That problem will likely translate into higher fares and less reliable service to core BART riders.

That being said, it’s fair to remind everyone that BART has an elected board of directors.  I’m just saying…

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