The board discussion on the new design lasted about four hours and was packed with public comments from seniors and people with balance issues who favored new floor-to-ceiling poles, wheelchair users and blind riders concerned the poles would block access, and bicyclists advocating for racks in every car.
BART has presented three options of pole and bike rack positions in redesigned cars. More than 17,000 people toured the final design of the new fleet recently. The first 100 cars of the new fleet are expected to arrive in 2017.
But heeding public comments that the tours were in a controlled environment, board President Joel Keller proposed that a prototype be tested before committing to one of the designs.
“Why don’t we take a deep breath, see if we can put these into a small portion of our fleet and see what the real world evidence is?,” he said. “There are a lot of legitimate issues. I think we have to take more time without delaying this prototype train.”
Keller proposed a trial of eight to 10 cars that would include three poles, each at a doorway, but also move the two end poles 6 inches off center, and include bike racks. The remaining two cars in the prototype train would not have the two end poles, and would have empty space instead of bike racks.
Board directors voted 5-2 in favor of the prototype, with Tom Radulovich and Zakhary Mallet opposed. James Fang and Gail Murray were absent.
While some board directors considered the action a compromise, wheelchair user Mary Steiner, an Oakland senior who travels often to San Francisco on BART, felt the prototype favored one group over her community.
“Bicycle people definitely have gotten a place on the train but wheelchair people, pregnant mothers and strollers, I think, are squeezed today,” she said. “And it’s unfortunate.”
The prototype will be tested during the last quarter of 2016 and a decision on the final design will be made based on feedback. BART will not face a financial impact as long as a design is chosen in time for the production schedule, said Paul Oversier, assistant general manager of operations.
Currently, BART’s fleet has 58.6 seats per car and 669 cars. The Fleet of the Future is designed to have 54 seats per car with expanded standing space to accommodate more riders. In all, 775 new cars have been ordered with the goal of reaching a fleet of 1,000 cars, with some cars being phased out. Growing from 39,220 seats to 54,000 in the new fleet is a 38 percent increase.