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As with many momentous occasions, a bunch of suits stood proudly in front of a giant red ribbon. On Nov. 17, 2017, the late mayor Ed Lee, smiling widely, introduced a gathered crowd to the first brand-new Muni train in more than 20 years, which would take off on the N-Judah line shortly thereafter.
The train — dubbed the LRV4 by the MTA and designed by the German company Siemens — promised a “roomier seating configuration, better signage, quieter cars and improved design that will reduce delays.” Within a year, they wrote in a press release, 68 more would be service-ready.
It’s now been a bit over a year, which means it’s as good a time as ever for a status report. The MTA hasn’t quite hit its target — as of Jan. 2019, there are 40 service-ready cars, a spokesperson says — but there are enough in circulation that it isn’t a shock to find oneself on a Siemens-designed train.
The LRV4 trains are a daily part of our lives, which means — of course — people have opinions. And though the trains appear to be largely well-received, there’s one complaint that pops up over and over: The people miss their butt dents.
You know the butt dents. These are the butt dents:
(picture of butt dents)
The dents, dubbed “seat indents” by the MTA, are a feature on the Breda-designed trains that debuted in 1996. The Breda cars, which compose the large majority of service-ready Muni Metro cars, allow differentiated seating and, according to some, prioritize comfort. On the Siemens-designed new trains, the dents are gone, giving way to a “flexible bench design.”
On a December Reddit thread, a number of users shared their takes on the dents and other new train features.
“MUNI rant: It shouldn’t be a disappointment when you see that your muni train is going to be one of the new ones, but it is,” wrote the thread’s original poster. “The new ones shouldn’t be worse than the old ones in any way, yet they are worse in several.”
The user went on to enumerate a list of concerns: an obnoxious chime on the new cars, less comfortable places to lean, and — perhaps most unforgivingly — an absence of the trademark seat dividers.
Others popped in with various complaints.
“The window sizes are smaller such that tall people can’t see out as easily,” wrote one user.
“The AC also feels much weaker,” wrote another. “Always feels stuffy in there.”
Some users, like proryder41, weighed in with a positive spin, arguing that while the complaints about the lack of butt indents and the obnoxious noise had merit, the overall benefits — efficiency, space, a lack of noise — represented a welcome improvement.
“Some valid complaints, but the main point is the trains are more efficient, break down less often and move faster,” he wrote.
Conversations with real-life riders proceeded along similar lines. Most riders on new trains surveyed on a recent afternoon preferred the updated Siemens trains to the outdated Breda models.
“I love the new trains,” Doug, a 25-year-long Muni commuter, told SFGATE. “I like the seating, the cleanliness. They’re kind of cool.”
Jessica, who was riding her first-ever new Muni train, concurred. “It’s fine,” she said. “I’ve never been on one when it’s crowded, but it’s fine so far.”
One individual, however, strongly echoed the online discourse in his conversation with a reporter. His primary complaint? That’s right — the butt dents.
“I really, really dislike the new trains,” Matthew said. “They’re completely uncomfortable, and really not designed for someone to sit down comfortably. They basically try to cattle you in.”
Matthew thinks Siemens isn’t designing the trains with commuters in mind. A Muni rider for 30 years, he’s now considering a drastic response to the new arrangement.
“It’s come to a point now where I’d probably have to bring a cushion if I had to ride on the train,” Matthew said.
Some in the aforementioned Reddit thread wished Muni was receptive to this sort of feedback. These users are in luck, it turns out. According to Julie Kirschbaum, the MTA’s director of transit, the agency is in active discussion with Siemens about making changes to future trains, including — potentially — bringing back the dents.
Kirschbaum reported a mix of feedback from riders on the new structure of the seats. Some riders, she said, report that the new design allows the option to bring a package with them on the train, or for a family with small kids to squeeze into a smaller space together. Others, however, have expressed a desire for the dents to return.
“I do anticipate that when we get into Phase 2 — which is replacing 151 of the existing vehicles — we will make some seat modifications based on the feedback we’re getting,” Kirschbaum said. “It’s one of the things we’ve posed to Siemens, and we should be hearing back on.”
Kirschbaum explained that some changes affect the vehicle’s structure, whereas others are cosmetic in nature and therefore easier to implement.
The butt dents are, of course, a concern of relatively minor importance. The MTA aims to provide affordable and efficient transport to San Francisco, and by all accounts, the Siemens trains are a step-up from the Breda trains.
“The trains are exceeding our expectations in terms of performance, capacity, modernization,” Kirschbaum said. “Our goal is to look for opportunities to speed up the next phase because they’re so much more reliable and customer-oriented than the Bredas. We want to get them here as quickly as we can.”
All of that being said — please bring back the butt dents, MTA. SFGATE implores you to save us from the manspreaders.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/new-muni-trains-san-francisco-transit-13536729.php.