Many of us have whiled away the minutes on a bus or a train with a book. Now the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, the public transportation authority of San Francisco, is looking to attract riders back to public transportation by distributing short stories at select stations.
The BART will hold a contest starting June 1st for commuters on public transportation who happen to be writers or any other writers out there who would like to submit. They will be accepting short stories of 7,500 characters or less with a theme of “motion.” The stories that make it into BART dispensary machines will be selected by a panel of 30 local writers and distributed at four stations across the network.
BART got the idea, and its story-vending machines and license from the French startup Short Édition, which began the public transit fiction concept in 2011 in Grenoble, France. There are now 400 dispensers of short stories on tickets across five different continents in airports, bus terminals, and even Francis Ford Coppola’s Napa wineries and the University of Iowa’s library system.
In September, BART will be celebrating its 50th anniversary, and this short story initiative is meant to “remind people of the role BART plays as part of the fabric of the Bay Area,” says Alicia Trost, the chief communications officer for BART. The Pandemic and remote working took a toll on BART’s commuter numbers, with weekday ridership now at 35% of pre-pandemic levels.
In a city famous for supporting the arts, though, BART believes it can win back riders with its short stories while also allowing writers to showcase their work. Winning writers — selected from the first 400 submissions — will be awarded a $200 prize and the chance to have their work licensed by Short Édition and distributed in cities around the world.
Stories will be printed on long, receipt-like paper which riders can take with them or leave behind for other riders. Along with submitted stories, the dispensers will also give out stories from classic authors whose work is now public domain. The hope is that this will encourage more people to use public transportation.
“A lot of people only know two stations, their home station, and work station,” said Trost. Maybe this fiction initiative will get people back on the BART again.