Seats on new Muni trains draw complaints from riders

Muni’s new trains have earned rave reviews, with one minor exception: their seats.

The new layout, with benches lining the sides of the cars, earned a smattering of complaints, and now Muni will survey its riders to see how — and if — it needs to change.

“The way they’re on the side? People slide too much,” said Neil Ballard, a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Citizens’ Advisory Council. The body, made up of members of the public from across The City, has heard complaints from people with trouble balancing who said they prefer seats facing forward so their backs are supported, among others.

The SFMTA Board of Directors has heard the concerns too, and at its Tuesday, October 16 meeting asked agency staff to conduct a survey of riders.

“We are working now to develop the best outreach tool and plan to obtain this feedback and will be releasing that information as soon as possible,” said agency spokesperson Paul Rose.

While the first new trains, designed by rail company Siemens hit the tracks last November, SFMTA still has more than 200 new rail vehicles arriving over the next ten years, leaving ample time to solicit community feedback, said SFMTA board director Malcolm Heinicke.

“I do think this is an important issue and I want to make sure, however we do it, there’s a chance for the citizenry to weigh in on the issue,” he told the SFMTA board at its regular meeting. “We should let people know we have [trains] on the production line.”

The new seats differ in design from previous models in a few ways: Older seats had a depressed form that kept riders in place, while the flat surface of the new seats allows more sliding. However, the lack of formed depressions means the seats — essentially flat benches — may allow more people to sit.

A quick survey by the San Francisco Examiner on Twitter found mixed reactions. “They’re too hard and they hurt my butt!” said Twitter user @itsqris. “They need more butt grip,” said Twitter user @mrjhnsn.

However, Twitter user @desertflyer said, “I am so glad that they face sideways to allow more people per train,” and Twitter user @rgarymccoy, a former City Hall staffer, said, “love them, though on an empty train (and being short) I’ve done quite a bit of sliding back and forth.”

On that last point, SFMTA board director Gwyneth Borden agreed. At the meeting, she said, “Can I ask about the seat height? Because my feet don’t touch the floor.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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