At first glance, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system wouldn't seem a likely candidate for a GIS makeover. It isn't a government jurisdiction in the usual sense, nor does it have most of the traditional responsibilities that make GIS useful to public officials.

BART's transit operations cross four counties, go to 26 cities and service 43 stations along 104 miles of track. This includes 30 miles through subways and tunnels (not including the 3.6-mile Transbay Tube and the 3.5-mile Berkeley Hills tunnel), as well as 23 miles of aerial track. On weekdays, BART moves approximately 300,000 people per day.

BART also maintains its own police force composed of fully sworn peace officers, who have the same training and powers of arrest as California's city police officers and county sheriffs' deputies. Its officers and detectives investigate all reported crimes occurring on BART property, including auto burglaries and thefts, robberies, assaults, and homicides.

Because BART covers a lot of ground that crosses the boundaries of several cities and counties, its police force works with a range of public safety agencies. Sharing information with those agencies and between BART employees can involve any number of scenarios at any number of locations, something BART struggled with in the past.

Building GIS Capabilities

Several years ago, BART police set out to upgrade existing technologies, many of which were bought in the 1970s when the transit system began. As part of the upgrade effort, BART police hired Carissa Goldner, who previously initiated a GIS project at the California Department of Justice.

"I came with a background of using MapInfo and ESRI," said Goldner, CAD/RMS administrator at the BART police department. "When I got here at BART, I immediately realized it didn't have anything like that. Moreover, they didn't actually see any use for GIS software."

Goldner, however, learned of an e-government grant offered at the time by MapInfo and applied on behalf of the BART police. Although MapInfo was flooded with applications, BART got the grant.

"BART is somewhat of an interesting entity in that it is spread out over a very large area, but as a series of thin lines," said Sabby Nayar, MapInfo's strategic industry manager for government and education. "It is not like a municipality that might have a big area to cover in terms of square miles. However, in terms of linear miles, BART is enormous. It is actually a pretty interesting and complex spatial situation. There are a lot of people they need to share information with, including other law enforcement agencies."

The grant provided BART police with MapInfo Professional -- a GIS tool for creating and editing data sets, doing detailed analysis, and importing and exporting data. The grant also included Discovery, which allows publishing of map layers created with MapInfo Professional through the Internet or an intranet.

With a standard browser, users can view maps, zoom in and out, click on points to get information, turn layers on and off, and examine complex data through a geospatial interface.

This proved important because, along with the GIS project, BART police also launched an intranet for officers as a means of sharing information.

"GIS is the second technology our officers now have that wasn't here when we started," said Goldner. "They are a little bit shell-shocked and bewildered. But at the same time, they are definitely excited because they see the future uses. The more our staff are using GIS, the more valuable it becomes."

Bringing GIS In

Before implementing GIS, the BART police department evaluated its current technologies to determine what they offered, look for holes and determine how best to use GIS for information consolidation, management and dissemination.

Rail data was the primary priority, as there were

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor