Visualizing the Major Issues at the Heart of the BART Dispute
With the BART dispute entering its fourth month and the BART strike watch becoming a nightly Bay Area activity, nearly every commuter has opinions about how much the transit workers and management are paid, how much they deserve to be paid and how much BART costs or benefits the region.
But, how much do you really know?
A group of software developers, the Bay Area d3 User Group, teamed up with the Visualizing Urban Data IdeaLab (VUDlab) at UC Berkeley to create a number of handy visualizations of BART data, which they’re calling Hack the BART Strike.
Ian Johnson does data visualization for Lever, a web app company based in San Francisco. During the first BART strike, he struggled with his commute from Berkeley into the city and started to think about how he could find public data and use it to make sense of an issue that was affecting him personally.
Johnson enlisted some of his friends to help craft rough sketches. Those sketches caught the attention of Lewis Lehe, a Ph.D. student at Cal and one of the founders of VUDlab. Lehe invited them to co-host a hackathon at Berkeley’s Skydeck startup accelerator. Twenty-five people showed up to work on projects and source data (and eat pizza). They followed up a few days later with a second event.
“As the days went on and the strike was delayed again and again, we were able to pull together the projects into one page, and everyone refined their individual projects too,” said Johnson. Now, all the projects using numbers being referenced in the BART strike talks are grouped together.
The most popular of the Hack the BART Strike visualizations is a tool that allows you to sort the salaries of all BART workers — union, management, unions not involved in the disputes — by total cost, base pay, overtime or pension contributions. In the visualization, the orange and light orange dots represent the two unions negotiating their contracts, while the dark blue dots represent management. The other colors are other unions and positions. The bigger the dot, the more money. These are all the employees by base pay — the top dot is General Manager Grace Crunican at $312,461:
These are all the employees by overtime pay — the biggest dot is Senior Operations Foreworker Carl Oliver, who made $121,452 in overtime:
The visualization was created by Victor Powell, a 24-year-old freelance developer who is part of the d3 group.
Powell says that he didn’t start with a particular goal or motivation, but just “played around with” the data set of salary information. He was a little surprised with what he ended up with, though. He expected the variation in salaries would be more pronounced visually and he didn’t realize overtime would play such a big role in total compensation.
“It was eye-opening to see it like that,” he said.
Some people, he said, have criticized his choice to leave the names of employees in his visualization. But he criticizes media reports that have dealt just in base salaries to compare numbers, or condense everything into an average.
“There’s no reason to compress it all into one number,” he said — not when we can see it all in one graphic.
Check out the rest of his interactive visualization tool.
While Powell’s visualization has struck a nerve — money always does — the Hack the BART Strike group produced other projects. Lehe tracked and mapped the number of riders going to and from each station. Another tool shows that Embarcadero is the most popular station.
The group sliced up the salary data different ways and tried to answer: How much does an employee cost? They compared cost of living to the contract proposals. They even measured traffic before, during and after the BART strike this summer.
“The interactive nature of the visualizations allows people to ask the questions they are interested in and dig as deep as they like,” said Johnson.
Here are the hackers hard at work: