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BART to roll out license plate readers after approving $2.4 million Motorola contract

After years of hashing out concerns with privacy advocates, the BART board on Thursday approved an up to $2.4 million contract to install license plate readers at parking lots throughout the transit system.

The unanimously approved contract with Motorola enables the transit operator to expand the plate readers beyond an already existing pilot at the MacArthur BART station with seven mobile camera units and two fixed cameras installed at a cost of $318,112. The contract authorizes BART to purchase up to 65 additional camera units over a period of five to seven years.

The readers will eventually give commuters the ability to pay for parking on the BART app by inputting their license plate numbers, said Alicia Trost, a BART spokesperson.

Supporters of the cameras say they will increase rider safety, help deter auto burglaries that have plagued some BART parking lots, and streamline parking payments and ticketing.

Thursday’s board decision was over six years in the making. In April 2016 the board aborted the system’s first attempt to start a license plate reader pilot program after privacy advocates said there needed to be adequate precautions in place to ensure the surveillance technology – and the information it collects – is not abused.

Then BART in 2017 activated the plate cameras for eight months without the board’s knowledge and sent the information into a database accessible by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, causing  further uproar.

BART approved a set of transparency and accountability rules and in 2019 the board approved the use of the license plate readers, setting up Thursday’s vote to supply the system with cameras.

Brian Hofer, chair of Oakland’s privacy commission, who was a fierce critic of BART’s original license plate reader program, said the transit agency has come a long way in meeting the concerns of advocates.

“We think BART is the gold standard,” said Hofer. “As far as complying with the surveillance ordinance, being transparent and acting in good faith we’re not aware of any violations.”

BART Director Robert Raburn, who represents parts of Oakland and Alameda County, praised the cameras during the meeting on Thursday, saying it would help keep cars secure while people use the BART system.

“The number one source of crime in Fruitvale (station) is over in the parking garage,” Raburn said. “It’s like a magnet for crime.”

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