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Questionable design hurts new Ctrains

By Jason Herring, April 27 2017 —

Have you ridden one of Calgary Transit’s new “Mask” CTrain cars yet?

An increasing number of these train cars ㅡ Calgary’s latest model, which have been operating since July 2016 — are making their way onto the city’s tracks. The $3.2-million cars come with a lot of bells and whistles, including sloped doorways for easy wheelchair access, monitors displaying the train’s route and spiffy LED lighting.

But the new train cars also exhibit some questionable design choices. The seats in the middle segments of the car have been replaced by a “leaning pad” for standing. The seats that do exist are under-utilized because of the removal of indents from the seats, causing passengers to take up more space than necessary as they slide around on the plastic benches. And the seats are shorter and more sharply angled than those on old CTrain models, making them very uncomfortable. These design oversights make for a surprisingly unpleasant public transit experience.

The absence of seats is probably so that Calgary Transit can fit as many people as possible into the CTrain during peak service times like rush hour and the Calgary Stampede. That makes sense, but I think that four-car trains and more frequent service are better ways of dealing with train capacity problems. And adequate seating on public transit is important so that those who may need seats ㅡ expectant mothers, disabled people, seniors ㅡ have somewhere to sit. Improving rider experience during the two weeks a year of Stampede isn’t worth sacrificing comfort during the rest of the year for daily commuters.

Although the problems with the new cars could be rationalized as design missteps, it’s strange to see the city spend so much money on cars with such obvious flaws, especially since they’ll likely be a part of the city’s transit infrastructure for decades to come. If we want more people to make use of public transit, it should be made as accommodating as possible. That can mean anything from lengthening transit hours to expanding the Bus Rapid Transit system or designing trains that people will actually want to ride.

In everything but visual appeal, the Mask cars are entirely unwelcoming. Sitting on those curved plastic seats for a lengthy ride gets uncomfortable fast — and that’s if you even manage to get a seat. This might sound like bickering, but these details make a difference to people who spend a significant chunk of their day on transit. I know that I’ll wait five minutes for the next train if I’m at the end of the line and a Mask car arrives.

Given the state of some older CTrain cars, it’s clear that Calgary Transit needed to invest in new cars. But the Mask CTrains miss the mark in improving the existing system and making public transit more worthwhile.

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