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Slip-slidy Muni Metro seats leave SFMTA seeking a fix

San Francisco’s shiny new trains seem to be working well, as transit officials expected, with the exception of one slippery problem: passenger seating.

Since the arrival of the new trains, complaints about the bench seating have been rolling into the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board meetings, Twitter account, and even through passenger surveys the transit agency conducted onboard the new trains.

All of the complaints have had an effect, as the transit agency will have time to fix these issues in its second phase of procurement. The SFMTA will give those design changes to Siemens Inc., the company manufacturing the trains at its plant in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, the SFMTA Board of Directors were able to give feedback to the transit agency’s Acting Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum on different seat types and configurations for the next batch of trains. The board will not make a final decision until May.

Directors have received negative feedback about the seating arrangement from passengers, and were also not fans of the bench seating to begin with.

Directors were in consensus in requiring that three-quarters of seats on new trains be two inches lower, so passengers who are shorter than 5-foot-4 can plant their feet on the ground on the new trains that have arrived already and for future trains.

Director Gwyneth Borden said:

“Lowering the seat height of course I’m 100 percent supportive of because I don’t reach the floor the current seating configuration. Obviously, that means I also slide around.”

One of the biggest complaints from focus groups conducted by the SFMTA was that there is no definition to individual seats, and that passengers complained of slipping and sliding, especially when the operator needs to make a sudden stop.

Kirschbaum presented two different seating types that were similar to the seating currently inside Muni buses and seating inside the Breda trains.

She said the transit agency estimates it could lose seats, but said seat loss is debatable:

“What we’re seeing on the benches is a lot of people spreading out either intentionally or not intentionally.”

Families, though, have said they liked the bench seating because parents said it was easier for to sit with their kids, said Kirschbaum.

Three different seating configurations were considered, included filling a small area of the train with single, forward-facing, seats.

Kirschbaum said:

“This would allow, for example, somebody who has a disability and really can’t stabilize themselves on a bench seat.”

A second option would even go further and extend the forward-facing seats on one entire side of the train with the exception of the front of the train. Seats on the other side would remain longitudinal.

The third option would still have longitudinal seating on one side, but double transverse seating on the other.

Kirschbaum said the option does preserve the number of seats, but said it was a significant design of the train:

“This design would require up to seven months of design and engineering work to carry the additional weight. It would get us back to the contract schedule, not necessarily the accelerated schedule. There would be costs associated with it.”

The third option would also not maintain the current aisle width.

Director Cheryl Brinkman said she was not sure which option she favored, but said she would go with the option that continued the transit agency’s accelerated train schedule. Those would be first and second option.

Malcolm Heinicke, who chairs the SFMTA board, said he preferred the third option and said the new trains cannot just focus on capacity:

“Capacity is important, but safety and comfort matter too.”

Muni passengers can check out the different options presented to the board at the SFMTA’s website.

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