Man sits down on a bench in the new N-Judah Muni LRV in San Francisco, Calif. Friday, November 17, 2017. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Muni may lower seats on new trains 2 inches for shorter riders

Since San Francisco’s futuristic new train fleet first click-clacked down city streets, they’ve been met with mostly kind reviews: They’re quieter than the old variety, a smoother ride, and far less prone to breaking down.

But one (not so) large community is raging mad about the new trains: anyone roughly 5’4” or shorter.

The seats on Muni’s new trains are too high, people near that height have complained, leaving many riders’ feet dangling above the train floor. That’s also a potential safety hazard, as people can’t plant their feet to stop from sliding about during sudden stops.

Now the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has announced they may lower the seats on three-quarters of every train by two inches, including existing trains and new ones they’ll order in the future.

That decision was announced Tuesday at the SFMTA Board of Directors regular meeting, but will only come to a formal vote in May.

SEE RELATED: Seats on new Muni trains draw complaints from riders

SFMTA staff said the agency is also considering adding front-facing seats to address concerns from seniors and people with disabilities who dislike the new bench-like seats set against the sides of the train cars.

Those seats are smooth, without dents or “cups” for people’s rear ends, leaving riders to slide around during speedy turns or sudden stops. They also don’t face forward like the seats on the old Muni trains, which causes aches and pains to some seniors.

Greg Miller, a Muni rider, told the SFMTA board a change in seating would be welcome.

“I’m 5’7” and 70 years old, I find it very uncomfortable,” he said. “I can barely get my feet on the ground to keep steady at times. I often end the ride with a distinct pain in my back. I don’t drive, so I would like to take Muni, not Uber.”

Muni is weighing three seating types for its new Muni trains: The current smooth bench style , taller “Freedman” seats akin to seats on the newer Muni buses, and bucket-style seats.

The configuration of the seats themselves may also change in one of three ways: option one would see one area of the train across from a leaning bar occupied by single front-facing seats, option two would see “most” of the seats converted to single front-facing seats, and option three would see one entire side of the train converted to double front-facing seats.

Each option reduces the capacity of people on the train: option one seats four fewer riders, option two would seat 12 fewer riders, and option three would preserve the amount of seats but reduce the aisle width.

To see the available options to change Muni’s car for yourself, click here.

Even though the new trains might lose seats, SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said people were spreading out so much on the benches it may not even be a big difference.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people spreading out either intentionally or not intentionally, not realizing the full potential of the benching,” she said.

Option three would also potentially delay the schedule of trains the longest, about seven months, Kirschbaum said.

The SFMTA Board of Directors took no formal vote on the seating arrangements on Tuesday, but offered guidance to Kirschbaum and her staff as to the choices they preferred.

“My feet don’t touch the ground,” said one SFMTA director, Gwyneth Borden. Another director, Cheryl Brinkman, said it was important to include front-facing seats for seniors.

The new trains, also called light rail vehicles, are slated to arrive in batches between summer this year and 2025.

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