BART Customer Services representative opens the curtain behind answering and listening to riders

09.22.21

BART Customer Services representative opens the curtain behind answering and listening to riders

BART Customer Service representative Michelle Pallen-Mendiola poses with staff in front of merchandise booth

BART Customer Service representative Michelle Pallen-Mendiola poses with staff in front of merchandise booth at a community event pre-pandemic

Daniel was on a plane ready to depart at SFO with his family for a wedding, concerned whether his parked car at Millbrae would be ticketed or even towed after he experienced payment issues with his airport parking permit (airport parking permit is now renamed to Reserved Parking). He sent an email to BART Customer Services as a prayer. Minutes later, he received a call.

As the plane stood ready to depart, BART’s Customer Service representative Michelle Pallen-Mendiola spoke to Daniel about his parking permit issues and worked quickly to resolve the matter. She fixed the permit payment issue and gave BART Police a notice not to tow Daniel’s car. 

“She really saved my family and I,” wrote Daniel in an email to BART Customer Services giving feedback on Michelle. “I’ve never had such amazing customer service from any organization. Even the gate agent at Millbrae Station was incredibly helpful. Thank you, BART!”

For Michelle, it’s just the daily work fielding emails, calls, and referred tweets to provide the best customer service BART can provide. Since 2013, Michelle has answered thousands of inquiries and complaints, some laced with rage and profanity, some dressed in desperation or curiosity. 

“It’s an honor,” said Michelle to Daniel’s compliment. “All I’m doing is just my job providing customers answers to their inquiries, questions, and complaints while maintaining a positive attitude.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, BART Customer Services have largely been working remotely. Previously, the department could huddle and speak in-person to get a question answered; now they rely on software like Microsoft Teams or Salesforce cloud platforms to communicate with each other and work to solve new customer cases.

Likewise with the ridership decline on BART since the pandemic, the volume of customer service complaints has declined overall, said Michelle. However, there is enough to keep her and her colleagues busy.

In recent months, daily fee and permit parking payments transitioning to the official BART app has been Michelle’s main workload as she walks customers through technical steps to transition their BART parking permits. But she says the most frequent topics remain unchanged: a train in need of a clean-up, a broken air-conditioned unit on a train car, and lots of people misplacing their phones.

BART Customer Service representative Michelle Pallen-Mendiola poses with the Clipper card mascot

BART Customer Service representative Michelle Pallen-Mendiola poses with the Clipper card mascot pre-pandemic

“People still lose everything in the system,” said Michelle.

For a clean-up or something which requires assistance from a frontline staffer, Michelle recommends riders know the location -- a train car number, or where it is in the station -- when calling Customer Services. Knowing the location, Michelle says, can greatly help Customer Services forward a case to the correct frontline staff to handle it as quickly as possible. 

Another recommendation: have the official BART app on your smartphone. The app, Michelle notes, has real-time departures, a BART Trip Planner, fare calculator, a biohazard report page, parking payments and much more. 

But Michelle acknowledges that not all her work is about providing immediate solutions to questions; it’s also emotionally being present for riders who’ve become upset by something that happened on BART.

“If the caller is irate, we listen and not interrupt them if they are on a roll and vent,” said Michelle. “A lot of the time they just want to vent. Recognize what the issue is and determine how we can rectify this situation.”

Tips for riders when contacting Customer Services

  • Call 510-464-6000 or 510-464-7134 for Customer Services or email at https://www.bart.gov/contact/comments. Customer Services staff are available 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday
  • In-person services are available at the Customer Services Center at Lake Merritt Station, 7:30am-4:45pm, Monday to Friday.  Senior, Youth, and disabled Clipper cards are available for purchase here, as well as BART merchandise.
  • If a complaint is about something on a BART train or station, please have location details on hand for fastest response
  • If you cannot find your station agent, please call Customer Services for assistance as well
  • If you call Customer Services outside their available hours, an interactive voice response (IVR) system will help guide you to find information you need
  • You can also tweet @SFBART for customer service inquiries. (Customer Services also helps handle inquiries and complaints from social media)

Other resources to know

  • Download the Official BART app for real-time departures, trip planning, parking payments, and more.
  • Know where the intercom is: the intercom inside a train car to contact a train operator. In old legacy cars, the intercom is on either ends of the car by the door. In Fleet of the Future, intercoms are by the side doors.
  • If you are on the station platform, use the white phone to connect to a station agent. This phone will roll over to the Operations Control Center which is staffed 24/7.
  • To report crime in progress or suspicious activities
    • Call BART PD at 510-464-7000 or 911
    • Download BART Watch app to discreetly text BART dispatch
    • Text BART PD at 510-200-0992
    • Intercom your train operator
  • To report biohazards on a BART station or train, please fill out form at https://www.bart.gov/biohazard or tweet @SFBART
  • To report a train car with faulty air conditioning, please tweet @SFBART or report at https://www.bart.gov/contact/comments and note your train car number
  • Use this flyer from our gender-based violence prevention campaign #NotOneMoreGirl with all resources to know on contacting BART PD or frontline staff

Accessible PDF of "Getting help for gender-based violence or sexual harassment on BART" is included on this webpage