In the last week or so, Metro’s newest Orion coaches, with low floors, wide doors, slimmer seats, bigger windows, air conditioning, and much quieter drivetrains, have finally started percolating onto my neighborhood bus routes. While I’m fond of the old Gilligs they are replacing, the Orions are in every way a vastly superior vehicle for the passenger and neighbor. The one thing I wish they had was a better seating layout like that of 40′ coaches Vancouver or Phoenix, where, similar to what Metro has done with RapidRide, seating in the low section of the bus has been reduced to make more floor space available for passenger circulation.
The photo above (for whose terrible quality I beg forgiveness) shows why this matters. Extremely busy inner-city bus routes invariably seem to have a number of people who want bring large wheeled shopping baskets or unfolded strollers onto the bus. I have no idea if, or to what extent, this is against Metro policy, but in practice, drivers rarely seem to bother even trying to enforce it. The smart thing to do is just accommodate these people officially, and this is vastly easier if there are just fewer seats down in that section, otherwise they are end up blocking the aisle or doorway, like you can see here. (On this busy trip, the disabled seating area was occupied).
Well-informed people at Metro and the city tell me that, while no decision has officially been made, there’s a consensus on high that having a RapidRide-like seating and three-door arrangement makes sense for the 60′ trolleybuses Metro will soon be purchasing, the benefits of this layout having been proven in practice. This is great news; but apparently the expectation is that 40′ trolleybuses will be laid out like the current Orions. Given that trolleybus routes — especially those which use 40′ equipment — primarily serve short trips with very high passenger loads, and will never see service on long-haul commuter routes where more seating makes sense, this would be a real missed opportunity to make transit in Seattle work better for less money, using a strategy that’s proven both here and elsewhere.