The many voices of BART

Communications specialist Berta Villalva is one of the voices behind BART announcements. Photo by Casey Miner.

Going across the bay for many people means getting on a train. While hundreds of passengers inch forward to squeeze onto a car, few people talk to each other, but everyone hears the familiar sound of these voices:

BART ANNOUNCEMENT: ...Richmond train now approaching, Platform One.

These voices belong to real people – real people who spoke with our transportation reporter Casey Miner for this next story.

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BERTA VILLALVA: My name is Berta Villalva, I’m a communications specialist in BART central.

TONY PASOL:  I’m Tony Pasol, also a communications specialist at BART central.

CASEY MINER: Do you recognize those voices? Maybe not. You probably haven’t met Villalva or Pasol. But wait – how about now?

VILLALVA: “Please help us keep BART clean and safe for everybody.”

PASOL: “As a reminder, please be safe at all times, remain behind yellow median strip at the edge of platform. That yellow median strip is your measure of safety. These trains do arrive at speed.”

If you take BART, you’ve almost definitely heard an announcement like that. And there’s a good chance that at some point, Villalva or Pasol was making it.

VILLALVA: People recognize my voice now. They try to say, "Well, where have I seen you?” And I’ll say, “No, you’ve probably heard my voice.”

PASOL: Not only people here at BART, but also all my friends...

They’re kind of famous.

VILLALVA: It's actually quite nice, actually.

PASOL: There used to be a person I worked with in outside, corporate world, would call me and say, “I heard you I heard you! So excited, oh my gosh, how many other people are like that?” It’s enjoyable! As Berta said, it’s an honor.

Pasol and Villalva work in the BART central communications center in Oakland – kind of the nervous system of the whole BART network. It’s a big, dark room covered with monitors showing where all the trains are, and what’s going on at each station. The communications specialists are in charge of making sure everyone knows what’s going on – everything from which elevators are out of service to where trains are stalled. And the choice of who makes the announcements isn’t random. There’s a whole psychology behind who should tell you to do what.

PASOL: We’re often asked why there is a woman’s voice in the train telling them to watch the doors, etc. That’s because of the fact that it’s a more soothing and calming effect to have a woman tell you, similar to a mother, tell you in such a way as to make sure you are aware of what you’re doing wrong rather than having a man come on, an authority figure, policeman type of thing.

And, in case you didn’t know, the voices are not always prerecorded. So if you’ve ever felt like that voice was talking directly to you – it probably was.

VILLALVA: ...almost daily. Especially that one that’s on that yellow safety strip! We’ll make our “attention all passengers, for safety, please stand away from yellow safety strip” announcement, and he’s still there. Okay, “Will the young man in the blue shirt…” – you have to kind of give a description, and other passengers will kind of tap him on the shoulder, and he’ll step back.

PASOL: Berta’s very nice when she comes across the PA system. But there are times when people get a little bit rowdy, and you’ll notice that Berta – well, she’s got a fist of steel covered by a velvet glove. She can get really into it. They’ll turn around, notice the cameras, wave, nod their heads, sometimes even look a little sheepish.

If you find the idea of a personal conversation with BART a little disconcerting, you’re not the only one.

PASOL: Especially when you make a canned message – you’re sitting there at BART and your voice hits you. You do a double take, I always do. Especially when I’m listening to my own voice telling me step away from the edge of the platform.

That’s right, buddy. It’s more than just your conscience speaking. For Crosscurrents, I’m Casey Miner.

What other voices accompany you on your daily route? Do you know who they are? Let us know on our Facebook page.