2+1 flip-up seats and a barrier
The new priority seating area

You may have noticed a change in the priority seating area on some of Metro’s buses lately. Metro is retrofitting its 60-foot low-floor articulated bus fleet with a new configuration for the priority seating area that matches the one found on the newest hybrid buses in service (6800 series). The new configuration features a split 1+2 flip-up seat and a barrier in front of the first row of front-facing seats. The barrier replaces the flip-up front-facing 2-person seat. Metro fleet procurement says this arrangement will “enhance passenger safety.” In addition to enhanced safety, the new arrangement adds an extra seat while a wheelchair user is occupying the space, even if it means a net loss of 2 seats per bus.

In related news, Metro is currently evaluating rear-facing ADA seating positions for passengers with mobility devices and a passive restraint system. The rear-facing position and passive restraint system is widely used on European and Canadian transit buses and can be seen locally on Swift BRT buses. No decision has been made to proceed with their installation, which could be on all new buses or specific buses like RapidRide.

79 Replies to “Changes in the Priority Seating Area”

  1. I was on one of these retrofitted buses on Wednesday (NB rt. 5) … thought something was different but was not sure (I actually sat in one of the +1 flip seats)

    1. I’ve been keeping a list of the retrofitted buses (mostly on the 255), so far I have:


    2. I think most of the Central Base coaches have the retrofit done. I drive them everyday and I haven’t had an old seating configuration in a while. You mainly see the, on routes 5/54/55, and 15/18/21/22/56/57 along with some other routes. The Atlantic hybrids are used on mainly 71/72/73/74 and 106’s, or used on the 36 or trolley routes on weekends have started the retrofit, but not sure how far along they are because I haven’t driven a AB Hybrid in a long time.

      Also, like mentioned above……it’s a net loss of 2 seats for the whole bus, but when you get a wheelchair rather that putting up 4 seats, you only put up 2 seats….or with 2 wheelchairs, rather than loosing 8 seats you only loose 4. I think it’s a great change.

  2. How much enhancement of passenger safety does this provide? Is it really worth going back and modifying working buses for this?

    1. Here’s my own rationalization for the change. The seats on Metro’s buses tend to be on the slippery side and there are no seat belts. Without the barrier, passengers in could be sent off their seats towards the front of the bus when it brakes. The barrier is helpful for those who are not able to keep themselves on the seat, especially older and disabled passengers.

      Most of Metro’s buses already have those barriers, only the older low-floor 60-ft buses don’t.

      1. I can vouch for the danger of that seat up front without any barrier in front of it. The one passenger injury that I had was when braking suddenly while driving the 44 (a car cut me off as I was leaving the zone headed down the hill towards Market Street at 48th). A young woman sitting in that seat was launched out of it and into the aisle, bouncing first off of that inward facing seat. I’m pretty sure she seriously injured both her ankle as she crumpled to the floor and her wrist as she attempted to break her fall.

  3. As a disabled person that does not use a wheelchair, I really appreciate this change. It also makes it easier to hold on to the pole.

  4. Is there any reason besides precedence for rear-facing seats. A large number of systems in Europe use them especially to work around wheel wells.

    1. For users of wheelchairs and other similar devices, the rear-facing position protects the user when the vehicle brakes or gets into a collision and doesn’t need straps to keep the user from flying forward. By eliminating some or all of the straps and belts, it is supposed to be more compatible with a wider variety of mobility devices, which makes it easier and quicker to use and reduces operator involvement. This should also reduce dwell time.

      As for general rear-facing seats, like you said, I think it allows them to efficiently use space on buses.

      1. Yes, Oran. Buses have windows. But ya see – when you’re facing the BACK of the bus, you only get to see where the bus has BEEN – not where it’s GOING.

        Really dude?

      2. Oran,

        I encourage you to think a bit broader on this. You cannot tell visually where you are going if you are facing the rear of the coach. Visual cues such as landmarks, signs, intersections, trees, businesses etc. are important to many folks who ride in keeping track of where they are. These can be particularly important to people with disabilties whose visual mobility – even facing forward – can be limited by the height of their mobility device, the number of passengers standing, etc.

        While I’m sure that there are many people who use wheelchairs who won’t mind the rear-facing configuration, I’m also pretty sure that there are a lot who will not only mind, but that it will present a genuine barrier for them in riding as indepedently as possible.

        While I do not use a wheelchair myself, having spent the better part of 2 decades as among other things a personal care assistant to folks who do – and assuming (hoping)that I myself live long enough and will experience life with a disability – I’m a bit less quick than you to dismiss the idea that rear-facing seating for wheelchairs on buses might present an issue for many folks.

      3. Maybe this is a bad assumption, but I would think that most handicapped people know their destination ahead of time and will convey that message to the bus driver.

        Just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean it gives you a free ride to not take on responsibilities. Ask questions about where the route goes, ask the driver to give him/her a heads up, etc. I do the same on routes that I’ve never been on and I’ve never been told “I’m sorry sir, I cannot assist you in this matter. Good luck!”

      4. I’ve noticed that most drivers are courteous enough to always ask wheelchair users what stop they’re going to.

      5. Jeff, while I understand and am aware of your concern, this issue has been mitigated in it’s implementation around the world. I believe the ADA still requires provision of at least one forward-facing position on the bus. Swift provides the old-fashioned in addition to the new way. AC Transit does too.

        Your argument is interesting as one of the intentions of the rear-facing, passive-restraint configuration is to allow increased independence by allowing them to ride unassisted. I believe adding stop enunciators can mitigate the potential loss of visual cues, like on Link light rail, where you can’t see out the front or back and half of the seats face the wrong way. Even non-disabled people have trouble figuring out where they are.

      6. Some people also get dizzy or similarly uncomfortable facing backwards, and they’re more likely to be those who also have other disabilities.

      7. Some people. Not all.

        FWIW, I miss the rear facing seats on Southwest. They were neat.

      8. Oran,

        I guess I’ll put it this way: I find your dismissiveness to be arrogant. I don’t believe that wanting (or needing) a choice to be facing forward – a choice that nondisabled passengers have – represents not being responsible.

        I urge you simply to think about what you’re saying, and what life would be like were you a wheelchair user. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing that.

        Back to my other suggestion (which you equally dismissed out of hand) – why not just face ALL seats to the rear? Safer, right?

      9. Oran: Speaking as a wheelchair user, I tried rear facing SWIFT.

        I will never do that again.

        Jeff, thank you for defending forward facing wheelchair seating areas.

      10. Well, Jeff, I never said they were going to eliminate front facing positions. You ignored my comment about mitigation and made a completely ridiculous recommedation that all seats face backward. This is about the priority seating area not the entire bus.

      11. Jeff, I didn’t say people wanting a front facing position were irresponsible.

        As to thinking myself as a wheelchair user facing backward or forward, my answer to you is I don’t care. Now, that may sound arrogant to you but think about it. We are very fortunate as a country to see the importance and neccessity of accomodating people with disabilities. As an imaginary wheelchair user, I am grateful to even be able to ride the bus the way it is right now.

        Imagine yourself living in a country with no ADA, no curb ramps, no wheelchair lifts, uneven, discontinuous and obstructed sidewalks, no consideration for the elderly and disabled, disregard for basic traffic safety laws and then tell me that facing backward is such a big deal. I lived in that kind of place over ten years. The way I see it is that mobility device users are accomodated, maybe not in your ideal way (but that can be mitigated), while also benefitting everyone with faster and more reliable service.

      12. OK, so I tried sitting in the wheelchair area facing backwards all the time on the 26, a route that I’m not familiar with, and yes it can be disorienting. That doesn’t change my opinion, though, as the real problem is people not knowing where they are at or are going because I don’t seem to have that problem on Link or a Vancouver TransLink NovaBus facing backward, in the rear of the bus.

        So some may like it and some won’t. Personally, I’m indifferent. Jessica, next time you ride Swift you can use the tie down. You still have the choice. I never said that you shouldn’t have a choice.

      13. Oran,

        As an imaginary wheelchair user, I am grateful to even be able to ride the bus the way it is right now.

        As an imaginary black person, I guess I should have been grateful to ride in the back of the bus not too long ago as well. Heck – at least I was able to ride the bus.


        Again – I encourage you to think strongly about this issue. Your responses here come across as more than a little – well – bigotted.

        The ADA isn’t about providing the minimum, or making sure that people with disabilities have “some kind” of access to public accomodations like transportation. It’s designed to provide EQUAL access. People with disabilities have been marginalized, disenfranchised, and discriminiatd against for centuries – and it’s still going on. Your attitude here (feel free to correct me if my impression is completely off-base) that they should feel lucky to be able to ride at all is more than a bit naive – it’s downright offensive.

      14. The point is I don’t feel that “not being able to see where the bus is going” constitutes unequal access to transit service when the same information can be provided via other means so they can KNOW where they are going. Just because you disagree with enunciators doesn’t invalidate their usefulness in providing information. Or without enunciators, I really appreciated the bus driver of the 358 who went beyond the ADA by announcing EVERY stop and the time.

        And yes, your impression is off-base. I have nothing against people with disabilities. I’m not saying that they don’t deserve equal treatment. I just think that “not being able to see out the front” is a silly reason to oppose rear-facing position much like I’m not able to see out the front of a Link train and many countries do fine with that arrangement.

      15. If I get stuffed into the trailer during crush load and all I can see is the hairy pits of the dude in front of me, that wheelchair user has a leg up on me since they have a window seat, not to mention they’re within speaking distance of the operator.

      16. Oran,

        The point is that your believe that facing backward or forward is merely a matter of “information” rather than the basic differences in sensory input between the two orientations, and that you “don’t care” about any perceived differences by people with disabilities who would prefer the same choice offered a person who doesn’t uses a wheelchair indicates that you have a great deal to learn about issues of access.

        You use “not being able to see out the front” in quotes as if it’s something that I said. What I *have* said is that many people with disabilities – like many people without – like to see where they are GOING. While I realize that looking out a side window – as on a LINK train – isn’t the same thing as sitting in the cab with the Operator – one *can* view visibly where one is HEADED.

        It’s pretty clear that you’ve staked out a position on this – and insist on it. I can only continue to recommend that you keep an open mind, and in particular listen to what disabilities who regularly use public transportation say about it.

        I never said that I “disagree” with enunciators – I believe that I’ve said that I wish that drivers did a better job making announcements and that I would not welcome them personally. I still see the need for their use, specifically BECAUSE so many drivers don’t make their announcements clearly, a behavior that I have lamented on my own blog as less than professional. OF COURSE enunciators are useful, and we need reader boards that have a visual cue about pending stops as well.

        I maintain that rear-facing wheelchair access areas should not REPLACE forward-facing seating on buses, for reasons I’ve already articulated here. You disagree – and “don’t care”. You believe it’s “silly”. I’ve got it. You have been heard loud and clear. I refuse to accept your dismissal of the issue as insignificant, and will defer other observations on the matter to the folks who actually rely on this type of access to educate you (or me) further on the matter.

      17. Tim,

        Somehow I’m guessing that your impression of wheelchair users having a “leg up” (I hope you’re not the kind of guy who makes short jokes in references to little people as well) doesn’t extend to actual envy that you don’t have a disability requiring use of a wheelchair to get around.

        Sheesh. You guys seriously need to spend some actual time getting to know people with disabilities. You may want to start here:

        King County Metro Accessible Services Advisory Committee

        I challenge you folks – and the STB meeting attending crowd – to float this idea past this committee – or at the very least, introduce yourself to some of the folks on this committee. You’ll learn stuff.

      18. From my perspective the point of these devices is to speed up service and increase reliability. Its not about whether we should put all seats facing forwards or backwards, it’s about whether the benefit of using these rear facing restraint devices outweigh the costs. Metro isn’t trying to punish riders with limited mobility it is trying to best serve *all* riders. That means no one rider segment will get everything they would love.

        Also just FYI I was actually asking about rear facing seating in terms or normal seating, not for limited mobility riders. Rear facing seating for normal seats are common on many buses throughout Europe and it seams to work just fine. As Oran mentioned this is in large part due to next stop and annunciation systems. Just last week I rode on the trunk bus 4 in Stockholm which has a large number of rear facing seats. It was fine because every stop was announced. I see you argument but I always try to look at international practice as a bellwether of what works or doesn’t work.

        So as long as limited mobility riders can choose which system they want to use (they will) and buses have next stop annunciation (they will) I don’t see why there is any reason to oppose these.

      19. Jeff,

        I don’t know where you read that I want to replace forward-facing seats with a rear-facing wheelchair area.

        If you think the ability to see where one’s going trumps all the other safety and service benefits of that configuration, then so be it, but the established practice of hundreds of transit agencies and their users around the world would disagree with you.

      20. Jeff, my point was not to ridicule, but rather to point out that there’s always something good in what can seem like a bad situation. Even if you dislike facing backwards, you shouldn’t complain too much because you’ve got both a view and a guaranteed space to sit on the bus. As a non-wheelchair user, I have neither.

        And with that, I’m done reading and responding to this discussion.

      21. One important factor in favor of the rear facing wheelchair areas is the ability of more riders to self-load without any help from the driver beyond operating the ramp. For some disabled folks I know every little bit of independence is important to them.

        As for the stop announcements, the problem is not all drivers do them and what is announced isn’t consistent enough to be necessarily useful to someone who may not be familiar with where they are going. Furthermore the automated systems allow for a visual stop announcement as well which helps those who may be hearing impaired or just listening to their iPod too loud.

        Sure some “color” is lost as well as a point of interaction with the driver, but systems around the world seem to feel the advantages of automated stop announcements outweigh the disadvantages.

      22. Tim,

        Even if you dislike facing backwards, you shouldn’t complain too much because you’ve got both a view and a guaranteed space to sit on the bus

        Wow. I mean – WOW.

        You guys – seriously? You believe that for a wheelchair user, having a place to SIT represents some kind of “advantange” that you don’t have???

        For real?


      23. Jeff,

        As Adam said, we face trade-offs in the real world to balance the concerns of all riders. Passive-restraint systems are very common throughout the world and even exist on SWIFT in Snohomish County. We also have a limited number of wheelchair accessible seats and bus stops in King County, which is another illustration of the trade-offs we face.

        If you cannot have a real discussion about trade-offs without incredulousness or absurd racial metaphors, then do not participate in this discussion. Your tone is abrasive and inappropriate for the type of conversation we allow on this site. There is no reason to pick heated battles with people who disagree with you on the margins. As I’ve asked before, register your disagreement in an evidence-based, respectful way. This is no longer a request, and I’m not soliciting your feedback on the tone we allow from you or others.

      24. John,

        Given the inconsistency demonstrated with your admonishment – I’ll consider myself persona non-grata here, and not participate further. My intent was not to “pick heated battles”, but to educate and encourage that some expressing – and even wallowing in – ignorance about the issues that people with disabilities face. If you knew people with disabilities as I have, you would not consider the metaphor that I’ve raised to be absurd.

        You folks really do need to educate yourselves about some of these issues, drop your assumptions – and get off your high-horse.

        Signing off.

      25. “Absurd racial metaphor”:

        Off the Bus” – by Russ Cooper-Dowda
        Ragged Edge Magazine

        To Ride the Public’s Buses – The Fight that Build a Movement
        Avocado Press

        The History of the ADA: A Movement Perspective
        by Arlene Mayerson
        “Like the African-Americans who sat in at segregated lunch counters and refused to move to the back of the bus, people with disabilities sat in federal buildings, obstructed the movement of inaccessible buses, and marched through the streets to protest injustice. And like the civil rights movements before it, the disability rights movement sought justice in the courts and in the halls of Congress.”

        “I’m almost ashamed to say that the medical profession has too often sent people with disabilities to the back of the bus.”
        -Richard H. Carmona, Surgeon General of the United States, 2005

        Educate yourselves, gentlemen. Attend a meeting of that committee I mentioned. Introduce yourselves. This is an important segment of the community that you’re not connecting with. While you’re at it – run Tim’s comment about how people in wheelchairs are lucky because they have a “guaranteed place to sit” past a person who uses a wheelchair.

        And be sure and look into these “absurd racial metaphors”, and the history this all represents.

        You should be ashamed of yourselves.

      26. Jeff,

        I already studied the history of the ADA and federal programs to assist transportation disadvantaged people.

        This is not some revolutionary idea that has never been tested. It’s already been accepted around the world, and beginning to in the U.S. Numerous focus groups have approved their use. That’s why I don’t see this as a big deal

        I suggest you read “TCRP Synthesis 50: Use of Rear-Facing Position for Common Wheelchairs on Transit” to understand why and how this system is being implemented around the world. The current U.S. system is far from ideal.


        You are simply overreacting to an idea that you are not familiar with. I’m not the one who needs an open mind, it is you. You are letting your emotions and personal experiences reject a rational response, supported by research, focus groups, and over 20-years of real-world experience, to improve transit accessibility for disabled persons.

        [R]ear-facing seats have traditionally been used in the design of urban buses,trams, subway systems, and intercity trains in Europe. The notion of rear-facing seating does not therefore have an image problem in Europe.

        p.17 from Victoria, B.C. Accessibility Commitee and focus group

        Some respondents indicated that there had been some apprehension
        from the wheelchair user community concerning
        the rear-facing position before its implementation. However,
        informal feedback received by respondents suggests that, after
        implementation, consumer acceptance is positive.

        p.23 AC Transit’s (Oakland, CA) experience

        The rear-facing station is configured to also use ADA-style securement straps, and to be used as an optional forwardfacing station in cases where passengers are not able to ride “backward” for health reasons. In this instance, strap-type frame securements are to be clipped into the floor for ADA-compliant securement. Time will tell whether this option is

        The regular seating areas throughout the bus feature rearfacing seating in opposing pairs. Therefore, “stigmatization” of the wheelchair user being forced to ride backward should not be an issue.

        The vehicles will be delivered to Oakland during 2003. Initial rides by wheelchair users on two prototype models in late 2002 were very positive [emphasis mine], after some consumer apprehension about how such a different new layout would work.

      27. If that is such a concern they could place a mirror, allowing them to see through the front. Though many other agencies also have automated stop announcements and displays on board, that announce every stop.

      28. The purpose of facing backward is that mobility devices are more secure during strong braking since their back is being pushed into a cushion towards the front of the bus and to simplify securement. Doing the same for regular seats doesn’t help much with safety. They could do it on a bus in some spots if it increases seating capacity. Of course that’s already been half done with trains.

      29. Don’t we announce stops now? Why was all that equipment installed to do so if not?

      30. The drivers are supposed to clearly and audibly announce stops, to comply with ADA requirements, but quite a few drivers either fail to announce them or do it in a way that’s not audible to the passengers. Random routes are actually audited by “secret riders” once a year to see if drivers are complying with the ADA requirements. Having an automated stop annunciation and display system would solve this problem, and make it easier for deaf or hard-of-hearing passengers.

      31. You’ll be able to disable the automated stop announcements and do your own. And when the system breaks (I know it will), you will HAVE to make the announcements. So either way it doesn’t really matter.

      32. It would be nice if Metro allowed drivers to override the enunciators if we chose to do announcements ourselves – I suspect they won’t allow this, possibly for consistency. Gone will be announcements about “the land of the lost and found” for Metro’s lost and found :(

      33. My favorite announcement is by a 212 driver that calls the jail the “King County Motel.”

      34. Ouch. Not sure I can buy into that one. However, I have on occasion referred to a bunch of folks drinking beers out of paper bags at the park near 3rd and Yesler as “a meeting of the King County Council”.

  5. Isn’t it a net gain of +3? I thought the forward facing seats also had to be flipped down on the current arrangement, meaning 2 inward down and 2 forward down = 4 total down. Now, 2 inward down and the rest stay up.

  6. I saw this configuration on a 72 coming down from Lake City a few months ago. I don’t think it was a 6800 series, I think it was the same other than the configuration as all the other 71/72/73s.

      1. I saw 6814 headed northbound on 3rd in front of Westlake Mall this afternoon signed as “To Terminal”.

      2. Thats not uncommon. 6800’s will be used on some South Base routes. Many layover on Blanchard and will stop at 7th and Blanchard. But the 143 lays over at 8th and Westlake and the 111/114 layover at 8th and Bell. Not sure if thats the area you saw them in, or you would even consider that to be SLU area yet.

  7. Have ridden buses in Sweden, and on the bus rapid transit system in Eugene, and on the Swift, with rear-facing passive-restraint setups. Seems to be good idea. Would be especially helpful for Tunnel buses, where it’s critical to limit dwell-time.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Completely agree. What would you say is the average amount of time it takes to do everything now. I would say maybe 3 minutes on the low floor buses? The high floor buses can take what feels like 5 minutes.

  8. Today I saw a 6800-series coach with a destination in white letters. I liked it much better than the yellow/orange.

    1. Yeah, those are the 2010 deliveries. Quite nice from what I hear, I haven’t seen them or had a chance to ride them yet.

      1. Oh wow, you’re right. I didn’t think they were out on the road yet. But just checked the tracker online and I see 6851 on the 150 right now at CPS.

      2. I saw a couple a couple of days ago. One was southbound, one was northbound. The bus numbers on the back are much larger (I believe the size of the first Rapid Ride coach). Only on one did I see the white destination board and that was only on the front and passenger side. The back and driver side indications were yellow.

      1. I saw two wheelchairs this afternoon on Link. Sometimes, you may not notice them because they move quickly on and off the train.

    1. Exactly. It’s because the well defined route structure and real-time information allow you to “track” via the information provided to you rather than by looking at street signs or recognizing your surroundings.

      1. And the fact probably the train reverses direction – so half the seats are back facing depending.

      1. I always sit facing forward if I can help it, because I’m one of those who sometimes gets motion sickness when facing backwards. (Which sucked on an Amtrak train I took from San Diego to Anaheim a few years ago.) So, yes, I do mind them, but I understand that we have to deal with them.

  9. Here in Sydney the low floor buses have ramps that are on a hinge and the drivers just flip them out manually. Seems to be way faster then the electric ones we use, despite the fact that the driver has to get up to flip them out. All of the low floor buses have the rear facing wheelchair areas so the drivers don’t have to deal with tie downs. Manual ramps must be a lot cheaper than our electric ones. And I imagine that they break down a lot less often. Has anyone seen these in the US? Would there be labor issues, would they meet ADA requirements? Or is it just because these need sidewalks and are no good if they have to reach down to the shoulder and the Aussies actually bothered to build sidewalks in most places?

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