By Marielle Mondon.
It may seem that everyone on the train has eyes glued to phone, but when it comes to transit agencies across the U.S. rolling out mobile apps for riders, some people have raised concerns about the high-tech approach when it comes to equitable transportation access. Now, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the year-old BART Watch app, which lets users report suspicious activity or crimes on public transit, is under scrutiny.
Using the BART Watch app, riders can upload photos and location information and text directly with BART officials when sending an “alert.” After reviewing a month’s worth of app records, Oakland alt weekly East Bay Express found a disproportionate amount of alerts sent via the app to show a bias against black passengers and homeless passengers. Of 763 messages, 198 used race to describe the suspect, and 134 of those descriptions (68 percent) identified suspects as black. The Express reports that a 2008 survey indicated that 10 percent of daily BARTcustomers are black and 48 percent are white.
The data shows that BART riders report Blacks for both alleged crimes and non-crimes at disproportionate rates compared to other racial or ethnic groups, and that people perceived as being homeless are also being targeted with a high number of complaints, often for sleeping, smelling bad, and other non-crimes.
Some pre-set categories users can select from when issuing a complaint include “disruptive behavior,” “panhandling,” “suspicious activity,” and “other,” which together made up 109 of the complaints regarding passengers identified as black by alert senders.