From Metro's employee newsletter

King County Metro’s upcoming RapidRide B Line will feature a passive restraint system that simplifies boarding for wheelchair and mobility device users, resulting in a faster ride for all users. As Metro describes, “users simply wheel into place without operator assistance, greatly speeding up boarding time.” Each RapidRide B Line bus will have two spaces for users of mobility devices: one passive restraint and one standard forward-facing with securement.

How does a passive restraint system work? The wheelchair user backs into a cushion and sets the brake. A stanchion or a foldable armrest prevents the wheelchair from tipping over and provides additional support. This allows rapid boarding and deboarding of disabled transit users in mobility devices i.e. no more complicated straps and belts. Passive restraint systems on transit buses are widely used in Canada and Europe and are beginning to be used on US BRT systems, like Community Transit’s Swift.

Metro has been evaluating the passive restraint system for RapidRide since early last year. That didn’t give Metro enough time to evaluate the feature and get it installed on A Line buses. “The plan is that if all is well on the B Line buses, we will retrofit the A Line buses”, said Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke. “We did have some structural features put on the A Line buses when manufactured so that they could be retrofitted.” There is potential that the feature be expanded system-wide, “although no specific plans have been made at this time.”

Several members of the Accessible Services Advisory Committee assisted Metro with evaluation of the passive restraint prototype (seen in photo above). They have been supportive of the feature. Experience in other cities like Vancouver BC suggests that after an initial learning period, passengers prefer passive restraint.

A good background document about the history and implementation of passive restraint systems is TCRP Synthesis 50: Use of Rear-Facing Position for Common Wheelchairs on Transit Buses.

57 Replies to “Faster Wheelchair Boarding Coming to RapidRide B Line”

      1. Well I know that the A line has also been more-or-less colored red, and saw somewhere references to the B-line in Blue and thought that might be neat if they colored the lines differently. but it makes perfect sense not to, A B C D E is enough to differentiate.

    1. The only thing changing is that the B Line coaches will have the restyled body. The model on the A Line is no longer manufactured by New Flyer.

  1. The Vancouver New Flyer E40LFR that came to Seattle earlier this year also had this restraint system.

  2. This is very good news. No reason why every bus should not use this.


    A lot of delays on buses are caused by wheelchair users needing driver assistance to strap in. Eliminating those delays should make buses much more dependable and shorten trip times. I have been on buses where one wheelchari boarding caused a delay of at least 2 minutes.


    1. This is something that Jarrett at HumanTransit talks about every now and then. RapidRide and SWIFT are gaining some speed improvements for the pretty modest price of new buses and some small-scale work at the stops.

      To make major speed improvements in congested areas, though, you need a dedicated guideway. That’s where things start to get expensive and require major planning, whether you’re running a bus or a train. If your major planning indicates that you need lots of capacity, a train might be more efficient.

  3. Speaking of wheelchair boardings, there are several stops that distinctly say “NO LIFT,” meaning wheelchairs cannot be boarded because of the stop’s geography. Shouldn’t they change that to “NO RAMP” since in a few year’s time Metro’s fleet will be all low-floor?

  4. Awesome. The current system puts the spotlight on the disabled transit user, since everyone watches the strap-in process to see when the bus can continue. I can imagine many disabled users being hesitant to board a bus because of this. Moreso, it has always made me feel tremendously guilty becoming impatient waiting for disabled riders to get strapped in. This type of technology is better for everyone.

    1. No kidding.

      I noticed that the trolleybuses in Vancouver — like here, the trolleys cover many of the core, high volume, centrally located routes that serve a preponderance of the wheelchair uses — all have the option of passive restraint on the left or active restraint on the right.

      No one chooses the active restraint!

      1. Just to add another data point. The Vancouver trolleybus driver who came down to Seattle told me the same thing. The passive restraint space is the one users compete for. The TCRP paper also says the same.

      2. There should not be any wheelchair accomodations other than passive restraint. There is no other option on the S.L.U.T. or Link. Why should there be on buses? Since they have the proven “technology” available for passive restraints on buses, that should be the only option availble on every bus.

      3. Reverse facing is not for everyone. For those riders in wheelchairs etc that need to face forward for whatever reason, keeping the option is the right thing to do.

        That said, I hope the next round of buses can accommodate more reverse-facing wheelchairs, with the space doubling as more standing room. I think it will matter more with the downtown RapidRides.

      4. Why not have both spaces the same? The Swift does and it leaves it up to the user.

  5. Excellent news! Next order of business is to immediately fit every Tunnel bus with this restraint system.

    The Tunnel should really have had priority, since headways are much shorter than on Rapid Ride, and delays cause more problems.

    The same holds for other Rapid Ride features, starting with fare prepayment. With a literal fortune in underground mezzanine space intended specifically for fare collection, it’s intolerable that on “game nights” buses have to hold several minutes each to collect fares.

    And hold trains behind them while they do. And convert a sixty-foot coach that’s already one door short into a one door coach.

    Speaking of wheelchair boarding, the busway in Eugene has yellow plastic (or fiberglass) “rub rails” along the whole length of every platform, so the driver can come in safely and a comfortable speed and never scrape the paint. Or get the lift platform “hung up” on the concrete.

    Almost thirty years ago, we designed the Tunnel to be the original Rapid Ride. Twenty years later…what’s the hold-up?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Metro mentions structural changes to the bus that are part of this setup. I wonder what those are and how costly those would be to retrofit.

      Probably the next order where we could push to have this option from the factory would be the trolleybus replacement order, and the downtown trolley routes are also high-priority routes. I will email Metro and see when the might be taking comments on that.

      1. +1 to this. If Vancouver can get passive restraint spaces on all of their trolleys (even the 40-foot ones), than so can we.

      2. They need to add structural support for the cushion that users back in to. That cushion absorbs the force of the wheelchair pushing against it when the bus brakes.

      3. I suspect the restraining arm is the primary structural constraint. The bulkhead should already be designed to take the pressure of passengers being thrown into it in a crash. The arm would exert a far more problematic torque on the unreinforced skin of the bulkhead.

      4. The arm doesn’t always fit the wheel chair. I think I see people actually use it half the time on Swift. Which means that there’s nothing keeping them from going in any direction but forward (from the bus’s viewpoint). I even heard one Swift driver tell the person in the wheelchair to just hold onto the restraint!

        Having said that the wheelchair spot is my favorite place on the Swift, I put the chair down and sit backward leaning against the pad. It’s the best spot in the house.

    2. Here’s the deal. Metro has not yet scheduled any formal outreach process regarding the design of the trolleys, and they will not make any plans in that respect until the council confirms the trolleybus decision.

      That said, anyone is welcome to email the outreach person for this project,, with your suggestion on the matter, and this guarantees that your input will be considered when the time comes.

  6. I’ll still use the straps, thank you very much. No way that I would want to be facing backwards.

      1. I’d probably still ride, maybe not as much though. I might tend to drive more often, especially if I’m going somewhere where I don’t know the area too well. That’s not really the point though, I shouldn’t have to face backwards if I don’t want to.

        I’m not really sure if getting rid of the forward facing strap seats would be legal. Here is an interesting link about the justice department suing movie theaters over providing crappy seats to wheelchair users:
        “People who use wheelchairs go to the movies, and pay the same prices, as everyone else. They should have access to seats of comparable quality to those available to most other patrons.”

        I think it would be pretty easy to make the argument that a rear facing seat is not of comparable quality to a front facing seat. Not sure if the ADA could be applied to public transit in the same way as a movie theater though. Does anyone have an example of a public transit agency transitioning exclusively to rear facing passive restraint systems? Or do systems with the passive restraints always have both?

      2. Metro told me that ADA requires one front-facing position on the bus. It’s your choice whether you want to sit face forward or sit face backward but choices have costs to everyone on the bus, not just you. I’m more interested in the reasons why people don’t choose the passive restraint.

        Frederick, read the TCRP document I linked to at the end of the article, specifically chapters 3 and 4. 4 Canadian transit agencies use passive restraints exclusively, since their first accessible buses were introduced with the feature and never had the straps. 2 Canadian agencies had the straps and lift-buses, their newest buses either have both (combi) or just passive restraint.

      3. Some people get motion sick quite easily and can’t sit backwards in a moving vehicle.

      4. Sorry to be a broken record, but based on my Vancouver observation — both options available, nobody choosing active restraint — I’m going to lump the passive system into the category of “things people claim to hate when really they’re just unaccustomed.”

        Like exiting through the back door, walking further to faster and more frequent transit, gridded systems requiring transfers, vehicles with better circulation and honest-to-god standing room, it will be greeted with trepidation until everyone discovers how much better it works. Then they’ll wonder how they ever lived without it!

      5. Also see the comments from two wheelchair users on my Vancouver PR photo (linked in the article). One was skeptical about them, tried them and now prefers them. His issue is with being able to see/hear the automated next stop announcements which can be fixed. Another says she hates the strap system.

      6. My daughter is in a wheelchair and on wet days I’ve seen her slide *sideways until the straps caught her. I would not put her on the bus if there were no straps. The SWIFT however also has greatly improved active restraint with the metal hooks and one release lever for both hooks. I can get her in as fast as the driver can get the ramp up AND she’s strapped down.

      7. Those hooks are also on the newer Metro buses. They are faster but they still require the driver to leave the seat to hook up, unless the person has their own helper.

  7. I’ve chimed in before about this – and yes I’ve done a transit hike up to Vancouver AND down to Vancouver from Bellevue:

    My only complaint with Passive is not being able to see where I am going, especially if I’ve never been on a bus before. My first experience was when SWIFT opened and I tried both ways.

    Yes, being strapped in takes longer, but I do want to see where I am going.

      1. That would be my one and only issue with Passive: I need to be able to see where I’m going, not where I’ve been if it’s a new route.

        On my 230 (which is slated for the ax eventually), I could do it going to/from work since I ride that bus every workday. Ditto with the 592 (every Friday evening and Monday morning); then again, since DuPont is at the end of the line anyways…

      2. I think automatic annunciators will help. Metro drivers are mostly terrible at calling stops in a timely, audible and discernible way.

      3. Automatic announcements are OK (Chicago buses have them). They’re not necessarily loud enough to hear if there’s other noise on the bus, speakers don’t always work as well as they should, and sometimes you’re reading when the announcement comes on… there are often reasons for anyone to want to see out of the bus.

        Clearly people are generally afraid of the unknown, but I think some of us are a little quick to shout down the fears of the disabled here. Maybe the reports from Canada suggest that, given a chance to try it out, most wheelchair users will prefer the passive restraint system. But some of the comments here amount to telling people their concerns are invalid, that they’re selfish (for wanting to see out of a bus!), or that they should just accept whatever bone they’re tossed when it comes to mobility. That attitude is unfair, and is just going to lead to conflict.

      4. I agree with Jessica. On the Swift it works OK because all stops are announced and it stops at all stops. You can ding the bell even after you’re stopped and can see the station. On a normal bus riding backwards on a new route would be a disaster unless they get visible indicators (that can be seen backwards) and/or consistent verbal announcements.

      5. For example: I get on the 230 at my home stop. I get off the same stop every time to head into work. I think I could do Passive since I know exactly where the stops area.

        Taking a route the first time? riding SWIFT backwards was extremely ackward. Maybe I need another transit hike to Vancouver (anyone want to pitch in so WTA and TransLink have a direct transfer @ Peace Arch;) to try out their Passive restraints again to see if I can get used to it.

        Sure. The CT operators were very nice to me when I wanted active restraint (one agreeing with me when I said “I need to see where I’m going”). Yeah, it took a bit longer (though since I can easily hook myself in – even flip the seats up and down, it speeds up the process since I can strap in while the operator stows the ramp)

        Going to be 100% honest: my manual wheelchair is so much easier to maneuver on the bus itself (especially crush-loaded buses), but give me my scooter any day in Downtown Seattle.

      6. It’s understandable when you’re unfamiliar with the route and stuff. Even facing forward you can get lost, like at night. That’s why the automated stop announcements in Vancouver and the ones we’re getting here are such a wonderful improvement. In Vancouver, they announce every stop. As long as I know the name of my destination stop I could ride with my eyes closed (or if I were blind) and just listen to the announcements, even on a route I never ridden before.

        You ride the 230? Isn’t that going to be replaced by the B Line?

  8. I wonder how long it’s been since any equipment manufacturer made a serous attempt to design a forward-facing restraint system that didn’t require either the passenger or the driver to reach past a seated passenger all the way to the floor, grab a filthy strap, and often fight with a stuck mechanism?

    If this piece of design is overdue, I suspect we’ve got enough design engineering talent in this region to develop and manufacture the equipment on our own. i’ve been told that CT designed the interior bike racks on SWIFT, and is having them manufactured at the prison at Monroe.

    It’s a long-held prejudice of mine that if this country started designing and manufacturing things other than derivatives and securitized mortgages, there would be both less need and fewer candidates for work inside prisons.

    Mark Dublin

  9. I hope the time saved on passive restraint doesn’t get wasted on pay-as-you-enter. Last I read, proof-of-payment was just an experiment on the Line A, to be potentially expanded to the rest of the RapidRides.

    1. I think POP is here to stay. See the ‘How to Pay your Fare’ page. No mention of “experiments”. You’ve also seen the A Line survey results. I’ll ask Metro just to make sure.

      1. Here is the answer.

        POP is indeed planned for the B line.

        I don’t have an answer yet as to how the C/D line will handle the Free Ride Zone.

  10. Once they get the wheelchair boarding time minimized, the next largest bottleneck is the bike racks. Have any of the bikers reading this tried out the on-board bike racks on SWIFT?

    1. I haven’t, but those things take up acres of space in the interior. I’ll stick my neck out here and say that given the choice between no bike racks and those, I’d make bikers ride. I bet if SWIFT routinely carried the loads the 358 and the 15 already carry, CT would rip those things right out.

  11. As a retired person I love the Swift racks. Use them all the time. Once today, twice yesterday on commute to a part time job.
    I will wait for the Swift when it’s every 10 minutes instead of boarding the 101 a few steps away.
    No hassle with the outside rack on the 101 and I usually arrive sooner on the Swift than the 101.

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