OAKLAND MAGAZINE MARCH 2008
She runs one of the biggest transit systems in the nation. Yet, Dorothy Dugger is as modest as a southern breeze when it comes to her role as top dog at BART. The girl who grew up on a chicken farm in Alabama sees her job more as a calling—a culmination of life experiences.
How did an Alabama farm girl end up in Oakland?
Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at home on a farm. I’ve spent most of my adult life in an urban setting. I moved here from Manhattan, which is as dense an environment as exists in this country. So while I love the outdoors, and I love to get my hands in the dirt and do a little gardening, I’m really at home in the city.
You were a child of the ’60s, pushing social justice and protesting the Vietnam War. How did that experience mold your ideology?
I went to a liberal arts college—Macalester—in Minnesota. The whole school was oriented around the notion of impact and involvement. It was a time of heightened activism and I was fully involved.
Do you see your role at BART as an activist for social change?
One of my colleagues said we’re not just in the transit business; we’re part of the global warming solution. We all know about changing light bulbs in the house, but switching one commute a week to transit can have the impact of changing five light bulbs in your home. It definitely is an easy way to start to make the kinds of shifts that we as a society are going to have to make.
How about you? You can’t really take BART to work since you live so close to the office.
True, but I do ride at least once a day, and sometimes three or four times a day; usually to a meeting, or socially, if I’m going into San Francisco.
I don’t imagine you’re reading the paper or staring blankly into space like other commuters.
No, I’m usually taking notes: If there’s a car that needs cleaning or the temperature isn’t right—if the air conditioning in the summertime isn’t working on a car, I make a note. But I must say that the system is generally in pretty good shape.
What’s your worst nightmare regarding BART?
Safety. Every day 350,000 people are putting their safety in our hands as they step on the system. I don’t go to sleep worrying about that because we have 35 years of great track record in terms of performance, but the worst nightmare is obviously some terrible accident.
Aside from safety, don’t you ever just want to take a pressure washer and scrub down those trains yourself?
Six hundred sixty-six cars is a lot to clean for one woman. I’m not sure I could have as big an impact as if I worked to get the car washer fixed. We are in the process of renovating all of our car washers. We have one in each of our four yards. Hopefully, next year at this time you’ll be seeing a shinier fleet.