BART may allow more businesses at stations

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Jose DeLeon, top, uses the pay phone next to a newsstand at the Powell Street Station in San Francisco, where there is plenty of space, above, to accommodate the installation of food stands and other kiosks.

The vast, cavernous spaces of some BART station concourses could be populated with produce markets, newsstands, drugstores, computer kiosks and other businesses under an arrangement approved by the transit agency's Board of Directors Thursday.

BART directors voted 8-1, with Tom Radulovich of San Francisco opposed, to enter into exclusive negotiations with TransMart, a San Francisco company, to become the master retail developer for the system's 43 stations.

TransMart, the lone firm to express interest in being the master retailer, plans to gather a variety of vendors offering products and services that would be attractive to commuters, and tailored to each station. Businesses would probably be housed in kiosks and other small spaces that could be easily reconfigured.

The purpose of the plan is to raise money for BART while providing conveniences to commuters and bringing some vitality to stations. Because the proposal is in the early stages, BART has no idea how much revenue could be generated, but other transit agencies have been profitable with similar retail arrangements. Both the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in Boston and the Chicago Transit Authority use a company that works with TransMart. In 2009, retail contracts brought in $2 million in Boston, and in 2008, they generated $2.4 million in Chicago.

"We're always talking about alternative revenue sources," said Director Lynette Sweet of San Francisco. "This retail concept can make money for this district. I'm all for it."

Details of the deal

Before retailers start opening shop in any stations, however, BART and TransMart need to agree on the details, including how much space will be leased at which stations, how much BART will be paid, and the types of businesses, signs and advertising that will be allowed. The first step is for TransMart to conduct studies that it will pay for. An initial study will look at the size of stations, passenger flow and expected passenger growth. A second study will investigate the effects of the retail operation and construction on passenger access, existing retail operations, and utilities and transit equipment.

Jeff Ordway, BART's property development manager, said TransMart will study all stations but will probably focus first on identifying and developing eight to 10 busier stations. Those are likely to include stations in downtown San Francisco and Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco International Airport.

TransMart officials attended Thursday's meeting but said they were not ready to speak to the media. Their proposal to BART, however, says they want a mix of national, local, neighborhood and seasonal retailers offering take-away foods, candy, flowers and gift items, fresh produce, breads, meats and cheeses, banking services, technology and communications centers, beauty supplies and services and bicycle rentals and repairs. The company also plans to offer a concierge service that would allow a customer to buy something at one station, or online, and pick it up when they exit the system.

Unique character

Radulovich said he opposed the proposal because small businesses were not properly consulted or involved in the process, and because he feared TransMart would bring the same businesses to all stations, ignoring their unique characters.

Director Gail Murray of Walnut Creek supported the retail plan, but was concerned that selling more food and beverages at BART would create even more problems with people eating, and making messes, on trains and platforms. She suggested beefing up enforcement of the eating and drinking ban when the stores open, and before BART replaces its rail cars.

"I don't want to be an old fuddy-duddy, but it does create a conflict," she said. "It's only going to make things worse."

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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