SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — At their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday morning, BART’s board of directors approved a plan to spend $96.5 million to replace 41 escalators at stations along San Francisco’s Market Street corridor.

The contract also allows BART General Manager Grace Crunican the option of replacing four San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency elevators at the Embarcadero station.

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“Modern escalators are finally coming to downtown San Francisco, and boy do we need it”, admitted BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

BART staff members said the elevators being replaced are some of the oldest in the entire system and have outlived their useful lives.

The sight of inoperative escalators has become so familiar to BART riders, many may not give them a second look. Unless, of course, they cause some real physical hardship.

“My legs get tight walking up the stairs. They’re always out. Always out,” said BART commuter Shirley Simmons.

While the out-of-service escalators have become something of a running joke among some BART passengers, others might say those immobilized stairways are emblematic of BART’s struggles on the whole.

“It makes you wonder,” said Simmons. “Do they have enough money? Something has got to be done about it.”

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Not only are San Francisco’s downtown stations are a hard environment to keep escalators going, the equipment itself hasn’t made things any easier.

Many of the escalators in the San Francisco stations were manufactured by German company Orenstein and Koppel. That business went kaput not long after these were installed, so replacement parts and maintenance have been a problem almost since day one.

As part of the escalator contract, the contractor is required to keep the equipment functioning properly at least 96 percent of the time. The board hopes to assist them in that effort by installing canopies over all the station entrances in question, which should protect the escalators from the elements.

“Working escalators are so important,” board President Bevan Dufty said Thursday in a statement. “This is a game-changing procurement as we will have a single escalator technology at all our core stations.”

The new escalators come with a 10-year guarantee, and are designed for more wear and tear and larger crowds. The plan calls for installation of roughly six escalators per year, starting in 2020 when the first escalators are slated for delivery.

Getting them all installed will take seven years.

The BART web site has a page that lists the status of all escalators with current issues.

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