BART alters design for new train cars in attempt to quell concerns

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BART/Courtesy

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BART approved the final prototype design of its new trains Thursday after responding to various criticisms — some, though, remain concerned that the new design does not fully respond to the needs of people with disabilities.

BART has been working since 2009 on creating its “Fleet of the Future,” which has been met with controversy over two major proposed changes — the implementation of bike racks and floor-to-ceiling poles placed by the doorways of the train. Both were approved in the new design, along with the installation of new LCD displays and more handholds, among other changes.

To address criticism that the floor-to-ceiling poles obstruct movement for wheelchair users, BART moved the placement of some poles to be six inches away from the center of doorways to allow for more space.

But Larry Paradis, executive director of Disability Rights Advocates, said that the new poles, as well as the overall BART design, would still create barriers for customers who use wheelchairs, scooters and walkers. According to Paradis, the configuration of the new train cars would also not allow wheelchair users to sit together in the same area of the train.

“The poles are creating a hazard. I wouldn’t say that it is a compromise at all,” Paradis said.

According to BART spokesperson Alicia Trost, the floor-to-ceiling poles were originally intended to answer the concerns of transit users who are short, elderly or have balance issues.

Designing the train cars involves balancing the requests of different riders, including wheelchair users who need room to maneuver, bicyclists who want space to store their bikes and standing passengers who need handles and poles to keep their balance, Trost said.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of all the riders,” said Trost. “But it’s difficult to make everyone happy.”

In April, BART revealed a model of its new train cars and invited the public to provide feedback. According to survey results released by BART, 72 percent of participants with disabilities during the testing period said the floor-to-ceiling pole was “excellent/good.”

Also implemented in the new train cars will be digital LCD screens that provide location information with a You Are Here bubble, intended to help the deaf and hearing impaired.

UC Berkeley junior Ann Kwong said her main concern with BART is the lack of a streamlined announcement system inside the trains, which makes it difficult for her and other members of the blind community to navigate. The new train car design seeks to implement Braille and automated announcements.

Trost said that prototypes of the “Fleet of the Future” design will be tested by customers starting in 2016 before all the new cars are implemented in 2017.

“We really want to see ridership before we turn over the final decisions,” Trost said.

Ten train cars will arrive in 2015 for testing. Eight of these will have all of the features, and the remaining two cars will have all but the poles at the end doors and bike racks, according to Trost. There are 775 new cars currently on order, with a goal of ordering 1000.

Contact Abby Madan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @abby_madan.

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