Blocked Aisle
Blocked Aisle on an Orion

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.

72 Replies to “Why Seattle Needs Urban Seating on 40′ Coaches”

    1. The reason for that space is that otherwise the wheelwell would poke out beyond the edges of the seats, making it hard to sit on the seats and possibly causing injury to unaware passengers.

      It wasn’t so obvious with the old-style seats because they were thicker, but that space has always been there.

  1. I really like these new Orion buses. Last year, they were gradually rolling them out on my local neighborhood routes, too, like 187, 182, and 183 (and probably 153 also).

    These buses seem sorely inadequate for route 180 through Auburn and Kent, but it seems that we are stuck with them because the city of Auburn doesn’t want Metro running the longer buses because it rips up the road. What 180 needs is the kind of buses seen on route 150.

    What route number was that photo taken on, and where was it?

    1. As for the 180, I think the main concern for artics is in SE Auburn, where most streets are light arterials. You could go back to the old situation, where the SE Auburn is separated from the rest of the 180 (remember the old route 151?) There are some artics that operate on the 180 very late at night, since they are off shoots of the route 150.

      1. What we really need is a South King streetcar that runs East West and intersects both rail lines (LINK at Airport, Sounder at Kent).

        So this streetcar would basically start at SeaTac, f0llow the 180 route, then head to Kent Station, then go up Kent East Hill, then continue on Kent Kangley Road to Covington.

    2. The 180 is a route that has three separate pieces, each with differing needs. The way to fix it would be to combine the Kent-Auburn part of the 180 with the Kent-Southcenter part of the 150, using artics, and to split off the old 151 and the Kent-Airport section (each of which could be through-routed with other service) using Orions. Doing that would require some form of Kent-Seattle express, though.

      1. A friend told me that before there was route 180, there was another route (151?) that was like the 150, but went to auburn, and used the really long buses seen on the current 150. But Auburn didn’t like these heavy buses driving on Auburn way, so they created 150 with smaller Orion buses.

      2. The 150 used to go all the way to Auburn. My understanding of the reason that it was shortened is not that Auburn had an issue with the Bredas operating it at the time, but that the long route was just too unreliable, and the shortening also helped Metro get the remaining part to 15 minute service at all times.

        (I think the Auburn-Kent part needs 15-minute service more than the Seattle-Southcenter part… but that’s just my opinion.)

      3. I would say Southcenter to Auburn only. Extending it to Seattle would hurt reliability and would not be a RapidRide-like service pattern.

        Have a separate 30-minute route with a shorter span of service (extended mall hours, enough for employees) connecting Southcenter and Seattle.

  2. I was always fond of the blue MTA buses in New York which only had two facing benches running on either side. The assumption is that only the old, very young or infirm would sit with maximum aisle width for standing, packages and mostly to get on and off quickly. Benches are also one size fits all, as each person takes as much width as their girth!

  3. Surely this would cause more standing, right? Once you have more than 3-4 standees, passenger flow is disrupted anyways.

    Honestly I didn’t see a lot of strollers on Metro, but I was mostly traveling at rush hour.

    1. Once you have more than 3-4 standees, passenger flow is disrupted anyways.

      No. Not inherently. Only when you have insufficient width and thus insufficient maneuverability between the seats and doors.

      Your mistaken assumption is exactly what Bruce’s suggestion is trying to correct.

    2. Metro had a 40′ Gillig Trolley outfitted with a 2 + 1 seating layout that I drove several times while I was at Atlantic base. The extra space allowed standees to move around easier and helped loading and unloading quite a bit. (Think about it, a seat can’t move and is always in the way, but standees can, and do, move around to let people get on/off the bus.)

    3. At Orthodox churches like St Spiriron in Eastlake, people stand instead of sit. The only chairs are a few along the wall for the elderly or those who want to rest for a while. As a result, the chapels are 75% smaller than western ones yet can still fit a hundred or more people without crowding. People tend to stand in rows or groups, and as more people come in they gradually inch closer together. Occasionally people walk around to light a candle or move to a chair, and the others move to make way for them. So it has several similarities to a bus with side seats.

      1. Seriously, though, Brent, for all of the efficiency-minded research and advocacy you’ve done regarding ORCA adoption, are you really arguing that efficiency-minded interior design should be avoided because people are unable to stand in motion?

        People stand on shakier buses and swervier trains the world over. The key is that the trips are so short and quick that standing on the vehicle is an unremarkable blip in your day.

        It’s the slowness and lack of momentum of our system that begets a preference for “settling in” and “securing oneself” for the long haul.

      2. My point is that selling the idea of standing on a bus to riders unfamiliar with the concept (such as we heard from West Seattle last fall) cannot be done by saying how easy it is to stand for moderate periods of time. You also have to demonstrate that it is safe. Ergo, the only useful comparison is to how long riders stand on other transit.

        I will often take a standing position on a bus, note that the driver is waiting for me to seat, and so I’ll give in and sit.

      3. Precisely the same thing happens to me. The inculcated expectation of seatedness is a huge problem! You simply cannot run anything approaching “mass transit” where everyone gets to be seated 100% of the time.

        West Seattle is proving the be the spoiled brat of Seattle proper. Of course, it was the 8AM commuter population (who never uses the bus otherwise) that was complaining, so it equates to all of the other extra commuter express runs that exist because it is beneath the dignity of a North Seattle white collar type to stand for even 5 minutes of a trip.

        You’re right, though. Prove that it’s reasonable to stand, not by comparing it to non-moving circumstance, but by proving that’s its safe to do so. The only way to do that is to design spaces where standing room is plentiful and comfortable, and then watch people adapt.

      4. d.p., you make such good points, and then you throw around gratuitous insults which undo any wish the audience might have to listen.

        I ride the 306, 312, or 522 every day to work. They are full of “North Seattle white collar types”… standing, every day, every trip between 6:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. When I ride the 522 (where I get on at the last northern stop) I almost never have a seat, unless I’m on an early bus.

        If you have a beef with West Seattle whiners, don’t take it out on people who are already riding the type of service you think is ideal.

      5. d.p., you are not going to generate support for your viewpoints through insults. There are plenty of people in West Seattle who want better transit services, and plenty who ride at times other than 8am.

        Before the service change, the 54/55 were often standing room only after Alaska Junction. People are not unfamiliar with standing. After the change, people were being left behind at the final set of stops down Avalon. You might consider someone complaining about being left behind to be a whiner or a ‘spoilt brat’, but what sort of service do you advocate where leaving people behind is acceptable?

        RR C was advertised as a significant improvement (‘service so frequent you won’t need a schedule’). When reality was significant decrease in service (there are less RR C trips than previous 54/55/22), it is not surprising people were unhappy. Especially the ones who got left behind.

      6. Of course buses move and churches don’t. (Aside from religious-inspired movement phenomena.) I’m assuming there would be enough handrails and straps. I have trouble standing in Link and subways if I’m not next to one of those, although I hear people that have grown up with them have better sea legs.

      7. I heard from a co-worker last week who lives in Rainier Valley that she regularly sees passengers left behind by the 7. (Perhaps they were waiting for the 7x or 9, but I’ll take her observations at face value.) Part of the problem in West Seattle is that no government authorities explained that the extra platform hours from the monorail tab money were going away. The other is that riders on other routes don’t have a neighborhood blog to give voice to their complaints. That’s not meant as a slight to the labor of love that is the WestSeattleBlog.

        Getting passed by isn’t the end of the world if another bus going to the same destination is coming in a few minutes (and an RTA clock would help in this regard). The only way to avoid passings-by is to run buses at less-than-full capacity. Some of us (including myself when I rode the 522) have experienced frequently waiting for the next bus, because our routes are being run at full capacity.

        The reason why getting passed by is bad isn’t that Metro got its projections wrong (It didn’t). It’s that Metro isn’t planning for growth. But it wants to plan for growth. But the revenue stream is withering. Yes, there is still a lot of built-in waste that could be trimmed, but not on the order of $75 million a year.

        Getting passed by is an all-too-regular occurence all over town. There’s nothing for that problem but to find more money to run more service. Metro has distributed the pain throughout the system. Do the passed-by have a legitimate beef? Yes, if they are willing to help increase the revenue stream.

      8. This gets my Observation Bias Problem of the Week award.

        As someone who has never had a routine Seattle commute that has required me to be on the same vehicle the same time every day, I have had plenty of both need and opportunity to be headed in many directions throughout this city at many times of day. This includes many high-demand commute buses at the peak of their demand.

        I have rarely, if ever, seen every seat full and anyone standing (except by choice) outside of the highest-demand segment of the journey: within the perimeter of Denny, Broadway, 12th Ave South, and Dearborn (or in the case of Viaduct buses, the very first stop off after West Seattle Bridge). I do not believe that I have ever seen pass-ups, except after a sporting event or on up-Capitol-Hill or 70-series buses that bunching and poor scheduling had left with excessive service gaps.

        In any case where a pass-up was even close to a possibilty, the bus has never been so crowded that an learned habit of moving further back (to which the public was understandably resistant in the one-door-only era) and/or an increase in standing space (achieved by removing seats) wouldn’t have 100% solved the problem.

        I am not calling anyone a liar here. I find it perfectly conceivable that successful all-day routes with additional strong commute focuses — like David’s 522 — might experience a dramatic demand spike on the specific trip or two that arrive downtown closest to 8:30-8:45. This is where the observation bias comes in: An unusually high percentage of riders wish to use these specific buses. So an unusually high percentage of riders experience these specific buses bus as crowded. So that same unusually high percentage of riders perceive the route as always this crowded.

        I can easily imagine the 522 being busy enough that the peak-est hour could be tightened from 10-minute headways to 8. But to call crush-loads and pass-up, or even having to stand at all, a pervasive experience is selective observation, plain and simple.

        95% of peak express trips I’ve been on have plentiful unfilled seats. Vary your trip time even a little bit and get back to me.

        As for West Seattle, I’m sorry for calling them “brats”, Paul. RapidRide was indeed falsely advertised as both a qualitative and quantitative improvement, when it was barely the former and arguably not the latter at all. West Seattle saw zero improvement in peak capacity at first, though it definitely got frequency/capacity improvements at other times of day. Ballard got hit even worse, experience no net increase at any time, and a net reduction in the evenings.

        My frustration at West Seattle stems from its political demand to be “next in line” for almost any major transit project, despite the district’s surprisingly entrenched sprawl, its comically thin density even in its junctions and “growth” districts, its demonstrated paucity of ridership outside of the peaks (Delridge excepted), and its track record of voting resoundingly against the taxes that would fund the things it demands. West Seattle strikes me as a place people moved to feel like they’re apart from the city, and that’s why their demand for perks and services the actual city has yet to enjoy tends to irritate me.

        “Brats” may be an uncalled-for insult, but my observation has been that they partake in the services-without-taxation cognitive dissonance more than most of the city proper.

        While I suppose I’m glad that the West Seattle squeaky wheel has gotten Metro serious about addressing RapidRide deficiencies in real time, I’m wondering if you’re aware of where those extra peak C Line buses came from. The inbound counter-commute from Ballard, which initially retained its advertised 10-minute frequency until 6pm (the only net frequency improvement from Ballard attributable to the restructure), now drops to 15 minutes at 5:30, leaving the 5:30-6:00 period extremely prone to bunching from traffic and demand spikes. Yet another example of peak-direction service coming at the expense of usable frequencies anywhere else!

      9. d.p., I think you are equally affected by observation bias as all of us. I think you must be riding a lot of shoulder-peak and counter-peak trips.

        There is more peak-direction demand through more of the peak than you realize. My commute time varies widely. The morning 522/306/312 is generally standing-room-only from 7:15 a.m. through 9:15 a.m. (Seattle arrival time), and has full seats for the few trips before that. The line has short enough headways and runs smoothly enough that there are only occasionally pass-ups.

        But some lines have far less effectiveness. I have personally seen an evening 41 (not on a game night) pass up people at Convention Place on two separate occasions within the last three months, and that line is routinely carrying 20 standing passengers from downtown to Northgate any time during its period of half-hour headways in the evening. The 71/72/73 expresses running in the counter-peak direction are well-known for routinely passing people up anytime between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. (I used to drive these 2-3 days per week; I don’t usually ride them now, but nothing has changed from what I hear.) Metro reports regular instances of passenger pass-ups on quite a few other lines, and you know well that my opinion is that fixing those issues has to take first priority. Not “OMG I had to stand,” but “I had to wait for 20 minutes because the bus was too full.”

      10. I don’t think I could possibly pick a better example than the 71-73 of a (set of) routes whose problems could be significantly ameliorated by tearing out 1/4 of the seats and prohibitively penalizing cash payment.

  4. I rode one of these to the meetup on Wed, on route 40. It was packed early on, and we left people at stop after stop. With such inefficient seating, this seemed crazy – we could have easily fit these people onboard with some more standing room. Also, combining the slow stop times of people pushing through those isles (packed with people) with slow SLU traffic we must have been a good half hour late after leaving on time.

    We’re in the city, and I’m guessing most people are on board for 20 minutes or less. It won’t kill more of us to stand.

      1. That’s nice.

        I hope you also want to pay a $4.50 fare, because that’s where we’re headed with Seattleite insistence on custom-designing its transit to smother any attempt at efficiency.

  5. Having a third door just a few feet behind the driver makes a lot of sense, but takes away a bit of active space. Can three doors even be a feature on a 40′ bus design?

  6. I didn’t realize that it might be illegal to bring on one of those grocery baskets on wheels. Mine is cloth sided with a metal base and very manueverable when empty. Of course when full its much less so. I definitely use it on the weekends, not on the commute.

    My pet peeve are standees wearing a backpack full up and fat. When they turn … kapow against the passenger 180 from their turn. No one taught them the “penguin chick” technique – as a standee, you take off your backpack, set the backpack on your feet.

    1. You can bring one, but it should technically be folded while you’re on the bus (as should strollers).

      As Bruce points out, this rule is just a pain to enforce, and so drivers rarely do it.

      I’d enforce it only to prevent a baby from being left in a loose stroller (i.e., never for grocery carts).

      1. Not sure how that would be interpreted under the rules (IIRC it would work OK), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try to use the securement devices to secure a stroller.

    2. Taking off the backpack is a pain and makes it harder to move around because you don’t want to leave it. Problem is that the backpack becomes just like any article of clothing and you lose sight of how thick it really is.

  7. another possibility is go with 2 and 1 seating on the lower floor section, that the Vancouver trolleys (old 40ft high floor flyers, haven’t been up there for awhile). It would provide wider aisles, but at the expense of less seating. Remember, trolley riders tend to ride a shorter time than longer commuter routes.

  8. For people like me who carry large objects onto the bus quite frequently (in my case a cello), this would be a welcome feature, because I always feel guilty for the amount of aisle space I take up when I have to sit in the front of the bus. It happens a lot of the time I ride, and I usually get a few dirty looks.

    1. I feel the same way when I bring my folded bike onto a crowded bus. It’s about the size of a briefcase and is explicitly allowed by policy. And yet, the seating arrangement of virtually every coach in Metro and Sound Transit’s fleets makes it difficult to carry it down the isle to find a spot to stand with it. With 3 doors and many places where I can safely stow that bike, RapidRide (B, C, and D Line) coaches are the exception.

  9. I often ride the bus with a kick scooter. When I get a seat, I can fit it under my seat with no problem when it’s folded up, but if I have to stand, there’s no good place to put it – I basically have to carry it in my hands the entire trip.

    For this reason, I actively prefer seats over standing. Sometimes, I will even let a standing-room-only bus go by if there is one coming soon that is likely to have available seats.

  10. Metro may just be exhausted from creating political controversy.

    West Seattle riders, especially, have just been screaming bloody murder over the reduced seating capacity of RR coaches. Even when the status quo doesn’t work, it’s often easier than change politically.

    1. Ladies and Gentlemen… we have a winner! Referring back to the reduced seat trolley Metro tested, I hear the customer survey info Metro collected brutalized them for even tinkering with less seats. Honestly, I think Metro is being brave for even considering the RapidRide seating layout on the artic trolleys.

  11. I have once seen the bell cord on one of these Orion buses get stuck, so that every time the driver closed the doors, a stop would be requested. That was actually kind of funny. Of course the driver figured it out and got the cord unstuck.

    1. That happens. For obvious reasons, you figure it out (or get the coach fixed, or get a new coach) pretty quick…

    2. There are four yellow stop request pull cords on the Orions. The pull cords are attached to a plunger that activates the stop request signal. If the bell goes off each time the door closes a plunger is stuck pulled out. Lightly pulling the cord a bit will usually get the plunger to retract back into place – and reduce your delay.

    1. I’m curious about that question too. I was in the 212 last week when it stoped short, people went flying. several people were hurt, specifically in the back row where there is nothing to stop you from flying forward. a passive restraint would have made the difference….

    2. Speaking of, is there anything that can be done so that the arm rest doesn’t stick out so far into the aisle? It further narrows the main entranceway by a good 6-8 inches, which makes a big difference when you’ve got someone with one of those aforementioned strollers or carts sitting in the seat right across the aisle. Seems like they should be able to design it such that it not only folds up but also back when not in use.

      1. You should try one of the RapidRide B coaches. Instead of the armrest there’s a whole stanchion practically in the middle of the aisle, permanently.

  12. Have you guys heard about how San Francisco MUNI is interested in attaching itself to Seattle’s Trolleybus order? I think that San Francisco’s own considerations (Since they’ve been using 3-door Artics since the 1980’s) might’ve played a role in convincing Seattle in adding it to their new Trolleys.

    1. uh…….Seattle Artic Trolleys have always had 3 doors, the MAN ETBs had 3 doors as do the current Breda ETBs

  13. Yes, we can do much better with our bus seating. I was in Reykjavik, Iceland this week, and their transit system is like a checklist of “worst practices” for coverage-based systems. However, they got the rolling-stock right.

    The entire fleet appeared to be 40′ low-floor, with either 2 or 3 doors. In the low floor section they had regular 2-seat perpendicular benches. Along the right side, the entire length had fold-up benches facing the aisle, reserved for the handicapped, strollers, etc. This arrangement allows you to walk around a row of standees without squishing or rearranging. (not that this mattered in Iceland, where the following of “worst practices” meant passenger loads were light).

    One other thing Iceland did right: the LED displays inside the bus had two lines: one for time and route number; one for the upcoming stop. Much more informative than our single line that switches between the two.

  14. Speaking of West Seattle and Orions, has anyone noticed that Metro seems to have stopped running Orions on rte 50?

  15. Part of the issue here, I think, is the same 40′ coaches get used on some lighter trips on commuter routes. I agree that standing on urban routes is no big deal, but standing for an hour on a commuter route is no fun, and prevents me from reading or doing the other things that makes bus travel more relaxing than driving. During periods when my commuter bus is standing-room-only (mostly at the start of UW terms), I often choose to drive instead.

  16. Route 50 now uses shorter buses in order to make the turns required by the original route. They are older buses with one door and little room for shopping carts, etc. I miss the Orions where I had plenty of room for my Burley Travoy bike trailer. The driver told me one day she had to leave some students behind due to decreased capacity. Guess they got a Tardy that day.

    1. Is it all 1100s now? I haven’t been down there on the bus in awhile.

      When I lived in the south end I was on a couple of 50 trips that would have gotten very tight on an 1100.

      Maybe if Metro gets a new funding source, the “need” for short coaches to make the Admiral -> California turn (perfectly doable with a 40-footer, with a good setup) will help Metro justify upgrading the 50 to 15-minute service.

    2. Last Saturday I took the 50 three times, and it was the small bus I previously mentioned seeing on the 105. One door, only two rows of forward-facing seats.

  17. I was on a packed 132 leaving downtown at the front of peak last night. (I’ve only been on one other packed 132, right after Torchlight Parade.) The driver and riders at the front kept calling for people in the aisle to scoot back. Most were willing, but some in the back refused to move into the open area between the side-facing seats. This phenomenon is something I’ve seen happen quite a few times.

    There are straps on the bars in the back area, but a lot of riders don’t feel comfortable standing in that area for some reason.

    1. I’ve noticed that too. It’s like they think that if they get well behind the back door they’ll never get out. Sometimes I stand up there on full 41s and people look at me funny.

  18. The Orions are much less efficient from a human capacity standpoint. There are 35 seats vs. 42 in the older coaches; the aisle width at the back is significantly reduced so fewer people can stand there; the steps are a real bottleneck; and the seat design is too rigid in terms of butt size. The older coaches were much more flexible in the seating size and didn’t have such a bottleneck problem at the back aisle steps; if one person is standing there, it’s virtually impossible to walk by. Metro may feel this is an improvement, but the majority of the riders on my routes feel it’s a much worse solution.

  19. People need to remember the bus is not their personal limo and stop hauling all their crap and taking up the aisle. It’s unsafe and rude!

    1. Or, perhaps people need to remember that some people don’t have personal limos – or any other personal car – and can either use the bus or pay a lot of money to rent a car just for that one trip.

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