Talking with A newcomer to S.F. and BART board

Name: Nick Josefowitz

Age: 31

City: San Francisco

Position: Member of BART board of directors, founder of RenGen Energy

J.: You were elected as the District 8 (San Francisco) rep to the nine-member BART board last November, defeating 24-year incumbent James Fang. What are the chief problems facing the system?

Nick Josefowitz: BART’s problems can be summed up as problems of success and problems of age. When it first opened, it carried 50,000 riders a day. Now it carries almost 500,000, but the system basically hasn’t changed in 45 years. If you think about things one uses in personal life, they are not built to withstand the daily craziness of the BART system. Imagine if you had a car or toaster from the 1960s. How well would these things be working? That’s where BART is, and over the past decade BART hasn’t been aggressive in upgrading its system.

Nick Josefowitz

J.: Overcrowding is a common complaint about BART. What is being done to address that?

NJ: We have 662 cars now. We’ve ordered 775 new cars and will keep 140 old cars. When you crunch the numbers, we end up with 925 cars, almost 300 more than we have today. We’re focused on efficiency, on building cars that work for all types of riders. BART needs to work better for the disabled, for cyclists, for families with strollers, people with luggage. We’re also designing cars to be easier to clean, to be quieter and easier to maintain. Because we’ll have more cars, we’ll have more seats in the fleet overall. People spend hours commuting. We need to provide a service that shows we care about their experience.

J.: The 2013 BART strike left riders angry. What has the BART board learned from that strike to prevent a future shutdown?

NJ: BART’s relationship with the union is like a dysfunctional couple. We’re rebuilding that relationship. We need to do a better job on worker safety. That’s a key concern of mine and our unions. We also need to do a better job approaching labor relations in a more systematic way. I’d love to go into the next round of negotiations with more of a culture of trust and wanting to reach a solution.

Public transportation has been a frequent target for terrorists around the world. What has BART done to prevent a terror attack?

NJ: We’ve gone through a comprehensive threat assessment and had much support from the Department of Homeland Security. Over the past few years we’ve implemented some significant investments in making our system a lot less vulnerable to terrorism.

But we also can’t totally interfere with how we go about our everyday lives. One thing that happened after 9/11 was BART shut down bathrooms underground. Even with terrorists, people still need to pee. It’s a shame for our riders and part of what leads to gross conditions in some stations. I’m pushing to build bathrooms in downtown stations that don’t leave us vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

J.: You moved here from London, where you were raised, three years ago, and started a renewable energy business. You also joined Congregation Emanu-El and the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council. How has being Jewish impacted your life and work?

NJ: I didn’t grow up in a very religious household but with a strong Jewish cultural identity. The Jewish values I grew up with were of resiliency and the one great heritage we’ve inherited over the past thousands of years, tikkun olam. Those are the ethics I was brought up with. We came to San Francisco three years ago fresh off the boat and fell in love with the city and the Jewish community, which had such deep roots. We found a different way of being Jewish here in San Francisco.

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.