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San Francisco's transit system is dispensing short stories to commuters

A kiosk distributes a William Shakespeare poem at a BART station in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Maria Avila
A kiosk distributes a William Shakespeare poem at a BART station in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Updated June 9, 2022 at 12:19 PM ET

Do you ever get to the train station and realize you forgot to bring something to read? Yes, we all have our phones, but many of us still like to go old school and read something printed.

Well, there's a kiosk for that. In the San Francisco Bay Area, at least.

"You enter the fare gates and you'll see a kiosk that is lit up and it tells you can get a one minute, a three minute, or a five minute story," says Alicia Trost, the chief communications officer for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit - known as BART. "You hover your hand over which length you want and it dispenses a long receipt like short story."

It's that simple. Riders have printed nearly 20,000 short stories and poems since the program was launched last March.

Some are classic short stories, and some are new original works, like Rainbows by Erica Johnson.

"[W]e always had this place, our place, our home. Away from the prejudice and the preachers," Johnson writes. "Away from those who saw our relationship as wrong. Just you, me, and the beach with water as far as the eye could see."

Trost also wants to introduce local writers to local riders.

"We wanted to do something where we do a call to artists in the Bay Area to submit stories for a contest," Trost says. "And as of right now, we've received about 120 submissions. The winning stories would go into our dispensers and then you would be a published artist and BART helped make you be a published artist and I love that."

Ridership on transit systems across the country have been downthe past half century, so could short stories save transit?

Trost thinks so.

"At the end of the day all transit agencies right now are doing everything they can to improve the rider experience. So I absolutely think we will get more riders just because of short stories," she says.

And you'll never be without something to read.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kurt Gardinier
Kurt Gardinier is a producer for Morning Edition and its podcast, Up First.