BART leadership questioned amid chaos of protests, computer hacking 

A series of missteps and controversial decisions has provoked pointed criticism of BART in recent weeks, prompting questions about who is actually in charge of the agency as it faces international scrutiny.

BART has lacked a full-time leader since late April, when General Manager Dorothy Dugger resigned under pressure from the agency’s board. Since her departure, the trains have come to a screeching halt no less than four times.

The railway weathered a storm of criticism for its handling of the fatal July 3 police shooting of Charles Hill. Its service stopped for hours Aug. 8 due to computer problems. And BART drew international scorn for shutting down cellphone service last week to quell a planned protest.

It also inconvenienced tens of thousands of commuters Monday by closing four stations in response to more protests, and two websites related to the agency have been attacked, with hackers posting personal information of passengers and police officers online.

Former General Counsel Sherwood Wakeman has served as BART’s part-time general manager while the board searches for Dugger’s long-term replacement. But the rash of crises and questionable decisions on his watch raise questions the agency’s leadership.

Board member Lynette Sweet, who opposed Dugger’s ouster, said BART would have handled the fallout from Hill’s shooting differently if Dugger were still at the helm. Sweet said advance notice of the controversial cellphone decision, which she called a mistake, never made it to agency directors.

“If Dorothy were here, not only would the BART board have been informed of that decision, but there would have been a detailed memo sent to us explaining the rationale,” Sweet said.

BART’s union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, has asked state regulators to investigate BART’s decision-making.

“Our members have operated with great grace under total failure by BART executive management,” Local 1555 President and Business Agent Antonette Bryant said in a statement. “It’s time for the California Public Utilities Commission, BART’s regulators, to take a long, hard look at what is going on with BART’s management and their decision-making process.”

However, BART board President Bob Franklin, one of five directors who pushed for Dugger’s ouster in April, defended the agency’s actions.

“There has absolutely been no void of leadership at BART,” Franklin said of Wakeman. “This general manager loves BART and has been around the organization for the last 30 years. I don’t know who could have handled this situation better.”

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, chairman of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, said the agency has done a poor job of reaching out to the public since the Hill shooting, culminating with the “very bad” decision to shut down cellphone service Aug. 11.

Fellow Supervisor David Chiu also criticized the cellphone move and said the agency has made numerous questionable decisions in recent weeks.

Wakeman apparently will continue serving as interim general manager for at least another week. On Aug. 3, BART Director Joel Keller said the agency would soon be hiring Grace Crunican, former head of the Seattle Department of Transportation. However, the agency has yet to make any such announcement, and Sweet said some board members still have questions for the prospective general manager.

Sweet hopes the agency will decide on a hire by its Aug. 25 board meeting, but said that timetable may be unrealistic.

Turbulence on the tracks

  • Feb. 10: Directors vote 5-4 to ask Dorothy Dugger to resign. Vote later rescinded due to violations of open-access laws.
  • April 13: Dugger says she will resign.
  • April 22: Dugger’s last day at BART.
  • July 3: Charles Hill shot and killed in scuffle with officers.
  • July 11: Protesters hold open doors, climb atop car and prompt closure of three stations.
  • Aug. 3: Media speculates that Grace Crunican will succeed Dugger.
  • Aug. 11: BART thwarts planned protest by turning off cellphones.
  • Aug. 14: Hackers access and reveal data of thousands of riders.
  • Aug. 15: BART again closes downtown stations in response to protests.

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Will Reisman

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