BART gathers opinions in seat lab

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BART Seat Lab
The BART Seat Lab occured at Fruitvale Station.

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BART held the first of a series of public seat labs at its Fruitvale station Sunday in order to gather public opinion on what the next generation of public transit cars should look like.

The seat labs will be carried at various BART stations throughout the Bay Area in order for staff to hear public input on what people want to see in the new trains that will be developed in the coming years. BART currently has the oldest cars in the country - some of the trains running today were even in service when BART first opened in 1972.

After the public outreach period concludes, BART will search for companies with which to sign a multi-billion dollar contract to build the new trains in phases. In order to allow BART to run more trains during special events and peak hours, 775 cars would replace the current 669 cars in the fleet.

The Fleet of the Future, as BART has named the new generation of cars, will most likely not appear before 2018, although some pilot cars may be on the tracks by 2016.

The $3.5 billion project is set to be entirely funded by federal and state funds, although BART is required to fund a portion of the project itself, meaning that the Board of Directors will be faced with tough decisions in terms of which projects to prioritize in coming years and which to delay, according to BART Director of District 4 Robert Raburn.

The need for upgrades has been further emphasized by incidents in recent months - a piece of trim fell off of one BART car near West Oakland on Feb. 18, causing a systemwide shutdown for over an hour during the peak afternoon rush.

"With projected population increases and rising gas prices, we're going to have hundreds of thousands of more riders in future years," said Kerry Hamill, department manager for government and community relations. "At the same time, we have so many different needs to balance - strollers, wheelchairs, bikes and people."

The seat lab consisted of three stations displaying various seating features. Members of the public were encouraged to walk through the interactive lab, try out seats and fill out a survey with any thoughts or concerns. Examples of seat widths and materials used in other major cities around the world were available for participants to test and compare.

"We want to engage the public and get their ideas, since many people have traveled to different places and have seen other examples of public transit," Raburn said. "Seats are what the majority of people come into contact with, and we know a lot of people are concerned with cleanliness."

Presently, BART boasts the widest seats in the nation at 22 inches. But proposed changes to the trains include shortening the seat width in order to expand aisle space for loading and unloading efficiency and adding a third door to trains.

Giovana Orozco stopped by the seat lab on her way to a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Fruitvale. Orozco, a San Leandro resident who takes BART regularly to get to school, said she preferred the leather seats because they would be easier to keep clean than fabric.

"When you hold onto something on BART and then smell your hand, it's gross," she said.

The next stop on the seat lab tour will be May 11 at the San Francisco State University campus. At least seven other events are planned over the course of the year, including a potential stop at UC Berkeley.


Contact Adelyn Baxter at [email protected]

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