San Jose

VTA Approves License Plate Readers at South Bay BART Parking Lots

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has approved a plan to use license plate readers at two new South Bay BART stations, saying it will make it easier for some customers to pay for parking in their structures.

But the new technology also has raised privacy concerns.

Two new stations that extend BART farther into the South Bay will have large parking garages, with 1,500 to 1,600 spaces each. People will be able to park in the garages and prepay online if they choose. The license plate readers would be part of that process, and the VTA assured riders their information would be kept safe.

"The automated license plate reader is the way we ensure that people pay for parking," the VTA's Ron Golem said. "So it's a technology that lets us record who's in the garage and compare the records with who's paid."

The garages at the Milpitas BART station and the Berryessa station in San Jose are owned and operated by the VTA.

BART stopped using license plate readers at its parking structures in 2016 because of concerns that information would be shared with outside agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The VTA says it won't share riders' plate information with outside users, and it will carefully scrutinize all requests made by law enforcement agencies.

"When those requests come in, we deal with them on a case by case basis," Golem said. "Our general counsel reviews them, and if appropriate, we will provide them with the information that's been requested."

BART riders had mixed reactions to the use of license plate readers.

"There's a lot of ways to identify people, you know. It's not just who you are; it's what's your car and stuff like that," San Jose resident Bellal Azimi said. "So, I can see how people can be uncomfortable with that."

Milpitas resident James Williams says he's seen the same system used in Hawaii.

"They're linking that parking spot to your license plate so there is some accountability there," Williams said. "So, I've actually seen it work.”

In April, BART decided to start using license plate readers again to help combat vehicle break-ins at its parking garages.

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