There have been many discussions recently about light rail but not much about vehicle design. Well there are a number of elements that make a tram attractive to passengers, not just from a visual standpoint, but also from a physical comfort standpoint.
Whether its a Porche designed tram from Skoda to one of the older PCC's that used to run in most american cities, appearance has mattered a great deal to patrons. Recently tram designs have gone from functional designs that served tram companies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s to the more stylish models that are seen today. Some will say that today's designs aren't as classic. Below are a few examples.
The Trams in Prague are functional and to those who ride them familiar. Many of you know my favorite below, the Siemens Combino Supra "Caterpillar". It's a bit boxy but others such as the Siemens SD70 Avanto used in San Diego, Charlotte, and Houston are much more streamlined.
Now some don't think this is very important, but there are a few who push the need for soft seats every chance they get. It's important to be comfortable, especially as Light Rail travels further out of the city and people need to sit longer. I noticed that seats in Denver had nice cushions while the Muni LRVs here have hard seats that I wouldn't want to sit on for very long and don't. I usually stand, but its not uncomfortable for the few minutes I'm on. The PCC seats remind me of school bus rides in 9th grade. They aren't super plush but they aren't uncomfortable either.
Flickr photo of Muni Metro Seats by Digiyesica.
Flickr Photo of PCC Seats by Jef Poskanzer.
Complaints about trams aren't just for folks in the United States. A blogger in Prague has been complaining and for some of the commenters, it seems a bit like sour grapes. There is also a facebook group against the new trams as well which my dad happened to take a photo of this fall in Prague.
This is a major issue and drives a lot of decisions in planning for new light rail lines, streetcars and tramways. Buses, even low floor, have ramps that can be flipped up and down. Many light rail vehicles have level boarding which means they pull up next to the platform and there is no need for a ramp or bridge plate. This makes the train more accessible, especially since in trains, wheelchairs don't need to be strapped in with belts as they do in buses.
Flickr photo of Level Boarding in Seattle. Photo by Bejan.
Portland Streetcar Bridge Plate. Photo by the City of Albuquerque.
This brings up another important consideration of LRV design which is aisle width. Moving around inside of the vehicle is important. A currently cited issue with many BRT vehicles is that the aisles where the wheel wells are very narrow. Light rail of the low floor variety is rather wide in the center.
Flickr Photo NJ Transit LRV Interior. Photo by Manish Karnik.
All of these things are important. Depending on the length of the trip, some are more important than others. More standing room in streetcars is better because there are lots of ons and offs while LRVs need more seats for longer distance passengers. And then there is the future. What will future designs bring? I've only covered a few of the most discussed elements but does anyone have more of what they look for in a LRV?