Riders find BART is more communicative lately 

While BART train operators may not riff like Southwest Airlines pilots, riders have taken note of more overhead announcements on trains and like what they hear.

From directions on how to reach airline counters from the San Francisco International Airport station to where emergency equipment is located in each car, many BART train operators have turned over a new leaf under a program designed to get them talking more to passengers.

"Over the last couple of months it’s gotten better," said Heather Toro, a San Carlos resident, of her ride into San Francisco to work.

The frequency and clarity of announcements at transfer points and as trains pull into stations have particularly improved, she said.

Toro’s observations aren’t mere musings. A customer satisfaction report released by BART on Thursday shows the train agency received its second highest rating in 10 years for "clarity of public address announcements on trains." BART received a 4.35 for customer satisfaction on a scale of one to seven, seven being the best, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said.

While many customers seem satisfied, there is still room for improvement, Johnson said. Monitoring by BART shows the frequency of public announcements on trains was down slightly to 83 percent in the first part of 2007 compared to a 10-year high of 86 percent in the first quarter of 2006. BART’s goal is to reach the 87 percent mark, Johnson said.

To increase the regularity of announcements by operators, random checks have been added as part of the program in recent months, Johnson said. Whether it is an equipment problem, train noise overwhelming the operator’s speech or no announcement being given, it’s unacceptable if passengers aren’t getting the information, Johnson said.

Part of the problem is due to BART’s aging intercom equipment, some of it 20 or 30 years old, Johnson said. Solving that problem could cost the agency millions at a time when it is just digging itself out from under a $100 million deficit, Johnson said.

BART’s plan to hire a private company to install flat-screen monitors in all its stations and trains could help solve both its budget problem and improve communication with passengers, Johnson said.

But while the monitors are projected to bring in an additional $2 million to $7 million in additional revenue a year, going through the bid process and installing the equipment could take two to three years, Johnson said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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