June 13--BART riders will have to pay $6 to ride the Oakland Airport Connector, but they'll need to wait another couple of years to find out if new rail cars will have ceiling-to-floor poles for standing passengers and bike racks.
At a meeting that lasted more than six hours Thursday, BART directors tackled two of the biggest issues they've faced since last year's extended labor dispute. But it wasn't easy.
It took more than three hours of public comment and board discussion before directors voted to wait until a prototype train is put into passenger service in 2016 before deciding what to do about the poles and bike racks. BART will test two configurations before deciding on the final design for the 775 cars it has ordered.
Few speakers remained for the discussion of the fare for the Oakland Airport Connector, an automated rail link that will carry passengers between the Coliseum Station and Oakland International Airport beginning this fall. But they staked out positions that left the board divided.
It took four motions before directors finally decided to charge $6 and to offer an unspecified discount, probably during peak travel periods, of as low as $4.
Transit advocates, who opposed construction of the 3.2-mile airport connector, backed the $6 fare, saying it would reduce the subsidy needed to operate the service. The Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, backed the $4 fare, which it said would entice more people to take BART to the airport and make it more competitive with San Francisco International Airport, which already has BART service.
The hours of discussion about poles, bike racks and seats on BART's new fleet ended with directors putting off the final decision on how the cars should be configured until they can be tested in a prototype train.
The debate over the design came down to two issues:
-- Whether to install ceiling-to-floor poles near doors to give standing riders something to grab as the trains surges and lurches.
-- Whether to include bicycle racks in each car.
Directors voted 5-2, with Directors Tom Radulovich and Zakhary Mallett opposed, to test a 10-car prototype train with two differently configured cars in passenger service during late 2016.
Directors James Fang and Gail Murray were absent, Murray walking out of the boardroom in frustration when board President Joel Keller suggested putting off a final decision.
The first 10 new BART cars -- four cars with operator controls, six for passengers only -- are scheduled to arrive in summer 2015. They'll be tested for about a year before being put into passenger service for four to five months.
3 doors on each side
The new cars will have three doors on each side, adding a middle door to the current cars' design. The plan the board approved Thursday calls for all six passenger cars and two of the four cars with operator controls on the prototype train to have the poles in the vestibules near the end doors moved 6 inches off center, to make it easier for wheelchairs to maneuver. Those cars also will have bike racks.
In the remaining two cars, poles will be removed from the areas near the doors at the car ends and the bike racks will be removed, leaving an open space that can be used by anyone.
Disability rights advocates said none of the options would allow adequate access to BART. They urged directors to remove all the poles from the cars.
They said the poles not only block larger wheelchairs, but will encourage people to gather near the doors, making it harder for disabled people to get on and off trains.
After BART tests the cars for 18 months and is satisfied, Bombardier, the Canadian manufacturer, would get the go-ahead to build the rest of the fleet. The new cars would start arriving in 2017 with deliveries continuing through 2021.
Bring fleet to 1,000
BART hopes to build another 225 cars, increasing its fleet -- now at 669 -- to 1,000.
"That will allow BART to take trains that are now at six, seven or eight cars and make them 10-car trains," said Aaron Weinstein, BART's marketing manager.
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan
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