"Seats, of course, are only one of the many considerations in the project to replace the fleet, but they are important to customers -- where the rear end meets the road, so to speak," said Melissa Jordan, BART Senior Web Producer.
The seating lab was open to employees this month, showing that BART's 22-inch-wide seats are among the widest in the world. Paris Metro seats are 19 inches wide; Washington Metro and Boston MBTA, 18 inches; with Los Angeles offering riders only 17 inches.
"In the lab you could plop into a possible future BART seat that was 20 inches wide. Sitting alone, it was hard to notice a difference. When another person sat down beside you, however, it was definitely more cozy," Jordan said.
Of course narrower seats would allow more people to ride on each train, and BART ridership is expected to grow to more than 500,000 riders a day by 2035.
Sample seats also varied in height, with those on BART 16.5 inches off the floor. In Vancouver, the height is 19 inches, which could leave shorter people's feet dangling but would be more comfortable for taller folks.
The seats from Boston are not only narrow, they are hard plastic, which is cold and hard and possibly slippery on a moving train, noted Jordan. BART is also considering whether to use padded vinyl rather than fabric on the new seats for easier cleaning. Another consideration is that the thicker the seat padding, the less legroom for passengers.
The seating lab presents variations to determine what is comfortable. BART employees who went through the lab filled out questionnaires as to what height, width and hip-to-knee space would be acceptable and what feels best.
"Whatever is ultimately chosen won't please everyone, but BART will take lots of effort to hear what the public thinks," Jordan said.
BART also asked for public input before the system opened, with the first public viewing of the BART train cars on May 7, 1972, at the El Cerrito station. Learn more about the new train car project at www.bart.gov/cars.