BART unveiled its “Fleet of the Future” train cars on Wednesday, inviting the public to tour a model train in downtown San Francisco. The car was greeted with mixed reviews. The most pointed criticism came from riders with disabilities, who argued that the design provides less accessibility for disabled passengers.
Before the unveiling, Bob Planthold was resting on a pair of forearm crutches with a group of disabled people next to the model train car. Planthold came to the unveiling to voice his displeasure over the addition of a three-pronged, Y-shaped pole located near the door of the new cars. He says the pole will encourage people to stand near the door, making it difficult for disabled riders to pass.
“The width is narrow for somebody who uses a wheelchair, somebody who uses a walker, somebody who is navigating with a guide dog,” said Planthold. “That’s why we’re here today – so the larger public gets to see how poor and troubling is this design.”
Joel Keller, president of the BART board of directors, addressed questions of accessibility as he took the media on a tour of the cars. “This issue has been before our accessibility task force, it’s been discussed and debated,” he said. “We believe there is enough room for this to provide access.”
With an average age of 30 years, BART’s current fleet is the oldest of any rapid transit system in the country. The agency has already ordered 775 new cars at a cost of $2.5 billion, and the agency is looking to raise that number to 1,000. Ten test trains will be rolled out in 2015, and the new trains are expected to go into service in 2017.
Another challenge that BART is facing is increased ridership and overcrowding. BART provides about 400,000 rides every weekday, and that number is expected to increase to 500,000 in the next five years. The new cars are actually smaller than the ones that debuted in the 1970s, but BART hopes to increase the size of its fleet, which would result in increased capacity.
“Our goal is to get to 1,000 train cars, which will be a 50 percent increase in the number of cars in the system. That will let us lengthen the trains and provide relief to crowded conditions,” said Aaron Weinstein, BART’s chief marketing officer.
The cars will also have fewer seats. Current cars have an average of 58.6 seats, according to Weinstein. The new cars will have 54 seats.
San Francisco resident Edward Wesley used to work at San Francisco International Airport, and he thought the smaller car size could be an issue for people with luggage. Wesley said he prefers the existing BART cars. “I really do. It’s like riding a regular train, you know? They’re comfortable.”
Last summer, BART showed off a full-size model made of plywood. The new model on display at Justin Herman Plaza is an “advanced replica” of what a real train will look like, but it’s about half the size of an actual train car. BART officials invited several disabled riders with wheelchairs onto the car before opening it to the general public, which did little to soothe fears about accessibility.
Andy Thornley of San Francisco was effusive about bike racks on the new cars. “I like the bicycle accommodation. I often bring a bicycle on board, and that arrangement seems to be productive and advantageous.”
The new cars also promise to reduce train noise. As Keller entered the train, he pointed to the micro-plug doors, which seal more securely than the current doors. “It’ll provide for a quieter ride for our riders, which is something that we’ve been asked to respond to.”
There’s still an opportunity to tweak the final design, but the window is closing – the deadline is the end of May. The model train will make an appearance at nine other BART stations for public viewing in the coming weeks.