BART Tries Removing Some Seats to Ease Crowding on Trains

Pictured during an atypically uncrowded run, here's one of the 20 train cars BART plans to reconfigure to test a new seating layout.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

If you ride BART, you've noticed the crowds, right?

With trains at capacity during every rush hour -- who knew so many people could become such close friends? -- BART is testing a new seating layout that will allow more passengers to board each car.

"New seating layout" is a little bit of a euphemism, actually. What BART is doing is replacing seven double seats with seven single seats on a group of test cars. In other words, each of those cars will have seven fewer seats, but more room for passengers to stand.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said via email that a total of 20 of the system's 669 cars will be retrofitted with the test layout, and seven are already in service. She adds that it's not clear yet how many extra passengers might fit aboard BART's aging cars with the new configuration -- that's one of the points of the test.

The agency is looking for passenger feedback on the new configuration -- go to www.bart.gov/testcar.

BART's inviting feedback on experimental car layout.
BART's inviting feedback on experimental car layout. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

While formal study results still haven't come in, Trost says she conducted her own informal survey when she got on one of the retrofitted cars last week, on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line.

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"There are those who want a seat at all cost because they travel a long distance on the train, and there are others who appreciate more breathing room and how it is easier to get on and off the train car because there is more floor space to maneuver around people," Trost said. "One person said it will make it harder for people with disabilities to get a seat because there will be more demand for the seats."

My own take, having been surprised to board one of the test cars well after the morning rush on Wednesday: I kind of liked the novelty of the single seats. However, my preferred mode of BART travel is asleep -- I'm luckier than most in the daily BART seat scramble -- and I think that sitting in those singles during a sardine-can evening commute might feel a little more claustrophobic than the current double seats do.

Of course, I'm describing what's really a luxury commute experience. Here's what real crowding looks like.