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6 seats removed from some BART cars

Submitted by News Desk on Fri, 05/09/2008 - 11:25am

(05-08) 19:28 PDT -- BART, the regional rail system that is carrying more passengers on a typical weekday than ever before, has been quietly removing seats from trains to make room for even more riders.

Six seats are being removed from some cars to create more space for people to stand and to accommodate the growing number of on-board bikes and the luggage hauled by passengers heading to and from San Francisco International Airport.

"Crowding is not going to get to the point of New York or Tokyo, but we are carrying a lot more passengers, and we have to figure out how we can comfortably accommodate more people," Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager of operations, said Thursday.

BART carries 360,000 passengers on an average weekday, and the number is expected to grow. Agency officials, who expect to have new trains designed to handle bigger crowds by then, predict 150,000 more riders a day by 2025.

The system today has very little room to add trains, which means the agency has to figure out how to squeeze in more people - notably during the rush-hour crush.

The challenge, however, is to not get to the point at which passengers get crammed in so tightly that they opt to drive or take AC Transit or San Francisco's Municipal Railway instead.

During the peak morning and evening commutes, the trains running along the busy downtown Oakland-to-San Francisco corridor, in particular, are crammed.

"It can get downright claustrophobic," said Betty Cheung, a 26-year-old graphic designer who commutes on BART between San Francisco's Mission and Financial districts.

"Luckily, I only spend about 10 minutes on the train at a time, so it's not that bad. But there are some days when there's hardly even room to turn around, and you've got people literally breathing down your neck," she said. "It's not pleasant."

BART began experimenting last summer with removing six of the 68 seats next to the doors on some of its "C-2" cars, the newest generation of cars. So far, 20 of the cars have been reconfigured out of 80 planned. At least two more cars are being added to the test batch every month. In all, BART has 578 cars in its fleet.

System officials said they don't know exactly how many people each train can carry safely and comfortably, but Oversier said the average rush-hour load under the old configuration is a little over 100 passengers in each car - about one person standing for every two sitting. Removing the seats by the doors creates room for about another dozen people, he said.

But taking out seats is just one initiative to increase capacity. BART also is trying to persuade passengers not to congregate near the doors but to spread out for more equal distribution.

"There's a lot of room on the trains; there's just not a lot of room near the doors," said BART Board Director Tom Radulovich.

But there's a reason: maneuverability. Riders who don't get seats tend to herd near the doors so they won't have to weave and push through the crowds when they need to depart. BART officials are considering designing future trains with three doors on each side per car instead of the current two to speed boarding and exiting.

Agency officials also have been experimenting with adding hanging straps to make it easier for people to grip something when they stand. The overhead grab bars are not very convenient or comfortable for anyone but the tall.

BART Director Bob Franklin, noting that the crowding problems don't occur during all hours of operation, asked the agency staff to look into offering discount fares during off-peak hours.

Oversier said a lot of ideas are being considered. But one he doesn't expect BART to embrace is the program in Tokyo in which white-gloved transit workers stand on the boarding platforms and push people onto the trains.
BART by the numbers

Average weekday ridership 360,000

Original seats per car 68

Seats to be removed per car 6

Train cars reconfigured 20

Train cars planned for reconfiguration 80

Cars systemwide 578

Trains systemwide 65

Source: BART

E-mail Rachel Gordon at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle