SAN FRANCISCO -- As hundreds of riders lined up Wednesday to be the first to see BART's proposed new rail car, members of a group for the disabled turned out to take the transit district to task for the design.
At Justin Herman Plaza, eager commuters stood waiting for a chance to walk through a car model after BART administrators did a grand unveiling.
At the first of 10 public viewings of the model, BART officials praised the design as more convenient for all users.
Representatives of the San Francisco-based Independent Living Resource Center said the design includes poles for standing riders to hang onto that make it harder for people in wheelchairs to get on and off trains.
"The poles should go," said Peter Mendoza, a center community organizer who travels in a wheelchair.
Mendoza said, after boarding the model, that he found it difficult to maneuver around the poles, adding that on "BART you have very little time to get on and off the train at stations."
Leaders of the center also said the new seats are not deep or wide enough for service dogs to easily fit underneath in order to be out of the way of other passengers on crowded trains.
BART Board President Joel Keller and transit managers said the district worked long and hard to make the design accessible to disabled people.
They agreed, however, that BART will assess the criticism before finalizing the car design at the end of May. They also announced there will be a special two-hour viewing of the car model for disabled people from 10 a.m. to noon on April 29 at the North Berkeley BART station.
BART train designers consulted for more than two years with a BART accessibility task force, which supports the new design, said Alan Smith, vice chairman of the task force. He is legally blind.
"Many people can use the poles to stabilize themselves when the trains start moving or brake," he said.
BART moved the proposed pole location several inches away from the door to increase space for wheelchairs to move about, said Aaron Weinstein, BART's chief marketing officer.
Many of the riders checking out the cars on Wednesday were pleased with that they saw.
Terry Freeman, a Bay Point resident and regular BART rider, said he likes the clean and new look. "Anything is an improvement over cars that are 40 years -- or more -- old," he said.
BART says the new train cars will have better seats with better lumbar support, easier-to-clean seat coverings and taller seats that make it easier to get in and out. They will also have bike racks, more handholds for standing passengers and more reliable air conditioning, BART officials said.
Lisa Brodus, of San Francisco. said she likes the new LCD screens that will show the location of the train in the system and its next stop.
"Anything to bring BART into the 21st century is good," she said.
The first of 775 new BART cars, which cost $2.5 billion, are scheduled to arrive from Bombardier Transit Corp. in 2017.
The next public showing of the rail car model will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at the West Oakland BART station on Seventh Street.