A video showing riders using the touch to exit feature on the first day

When Metro’s XT40 trolleys hit the streets on August 19, 2015 they also introduced the Touch to Exit feature to the fleet. The system, officialy the Vapor CLASS sensing system, uses a set of ultrasonic sensors mounted above the door. One the bus is fully stopped, an indicator light above the doors illuminates and if the sensors notice a break, the system sends a signal to open the doors. Shortly after not noting any breaks, the doors will shut automatically This means that all sets of doors can be operated independently, with the bus operator only having to take control of the front door.

In total, 279 of Metro’s buses have been outfitted with the feature, including all 174 electric trolleys, 20 RapidRide buses and 85 three-door articulated hybrids. King County DOT’s Public Affairs Coordinator Jeff Switzer explains that the goal was to improve the customer’s ability to exit by the back door and activate the back door themselves.

On February 16, after ongoing discussions with operators, Metro issued an operations bulletin instructing all operators to “maintain operator control of the rear doors” and “not to use the passenger control option”. Metro’s vehicle maintenance staff have placed black decals completely covering up the passenger-facing instructions for touch to exit. This change doesn’t actually disable the system, and as a regular trolley rider I can attest that riders still have to touch to exit on some trips despite the signage being gone.

During the two and a half years the system was in place, many riders figured out how to use the system. Others didn’t and still bellowed “back door!” while a few didn’t notice any difference as they only had to follow the crowd out the door. The number of shouted requests for the back door—either out of unfamiliarity or habit—was great enough that some operators operated the rear doors in the same manner that they do on other buses not equipped with the feature.

In a perfect world where every rider was properly educated to touch to exit, the system has numerous benefits. The doors quickly shut after they’ve been opened which reduces the total time that the rear doors are open. All buses have an interlock which prevents the bus from moving forward if the rear doors are open. This helps reduce fare evasion since the doors won’t be standing open. This is also beneficial during hot or cold months (all buses with this feature have air conditioning). And lastly, it can help reduce dwell times albeit a small amount, as the door closing process is not nearly as swift as you’d see aboard the Enterprise.

Metro has received at least 15 complaints since July 2017 about the feature. Whatever these complaints were, it may be in Metro’s best interest to simply open all doors all the time. Riders that are already hesitant about using the rear door to exit don’t need an extra hurdle to do so. All-door boarding has worked out well enough in the two years since Metro ended their silly front-door-only-after-7PM boarding on RapidRide, though fare evasion is not an issue with a proof-of-payment system.

Future fleet purchases will not include the touch to exit feature. Deleting this option from the order will save $155 per unit.

54 Replies to “Metro Quietly Discontinues Touch-to-Exit”

    1. Yeah, but they still required activation by the driver, I think. So if they weren’t enabled, sometimes they didn’t work, and you got the yelling anyways. Once someone learns the doors don’t always work, they revert to what does work–yelling.

      1. Erin is correct, I used this system for years on the 12. When the indicator light is off, no amount of passenger action will open the door. The system doesn’t activate automatically whenever the vehicle stops, presumably to stop us from hopping off at traffic lights. So, it’s not really putting the passengers in control and taking the driver out of the loop.

    2. How much Thai do you know? And Chamber of Commerce in any city enforcing English only for cash transactions might object to ridership consisting of Theresa May. Though she’ll probably be her own visible answer. Best functioning world systems needn’t post a word in any language.

      System too complex for the little pix really should have club cars, with special trains enabling both tigerskin rugs and realistic tiger oriented mistakes. Really curious what average roof-riders think about door policy. Really best thing will be drivers’ meetings on the subject. Not surveys. One person’s prudence is another one’s power trip.


  1. I’ve never had the opportunity to use this on any of the metro buses. The ones TriMet has on the Gilligs are really hard to use and require a really firm push on the door to get the detector to work.

    Meanwhile, even though most of the time MAX opens all doors, since 1986 the cars have had a nice simple mechanical button that seems to work just fine when needed.

    1. It’s optical-based, not touch-based. It’s like those door-openers in supermarkets where you pass a beam of infrared light and it opens the door or rings a bell. The problem on buses is they’re not active until a couple moments after the bus stops, so you’re standing there waiting for the green light to come on telling you it’s active. That’s the same delay as when the driver opens the door, but then there’s the additional delay of you triggering the opener. If the back door simply opened when the front one does rather than having a delay, boarding would be fastest. So there’s this built-in delay on top of people waiting for the door to open automatically but it’s waiting for you to trigger it. Other cities have door levers or such, but that’s not what Metro has.

      1. This got confusing when I started riding Pierce Transit buses and PT operated ST Express buses on a regular basis.

        On their buses, you have to physically push the rear door part-way open to trigger the automatic door opener. Since the new Metro buses had already trained me to just wave my hand in front of the gap or tap it lightly, the first time I tried to exit went something like this:

        me: *wave*
        door: [nothing]
        me: *tap tap tap on door*
        me: “BACK DOOR!”
        driver: “PUSH!”
        me: *pushes lightly*
        door: [opens an inch and springs back closed]
        driver: “PUSH HARD!”
        me: *push door most of the way open*
        door: [opens all the way]
        me: “ooooh”

        Some of those Pierce Transit coaches make you seriously lean in to the door with quite a bit of force to get them to open for you; others basically fall open with the lightest pressure.

    2. To be clear, the such says “Touch to open” but that’s just to get you to out your hand through the light beam, which has a little sender/receiver pair at the top or bottom of the doors.

  2. Over-engineered solution to a problem that requires a far simpler solution:

    Open all doors at all stops.


    1. Except that towards the tails of many routes opening all doors IS unnecessary,and lets the cold in in winter and the cool out/heat in in summer. I’ll gladly put up with an occasional “Back Door” to keep the bus warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, thanks.

      1. What is tolerable and what is better aren’t the same thing, I’m afraid.

        Is there any other place that has people SHOUTING across the bus to get off?

        Doesn’t seem to me like there’s any good justification for why we don’t have all door boarding on ALL buses.

      2. Adam, It was pretty clearly stated in the post that the downsides of opening all the doors all the time are increased fare evasion and inefficiency of the air-conditioning/heating systems.

      3. It was pretty clearly stated in the post that the downsides of opening all the doors all the time are increased fare evasion

        I’m sorry, but I am not capable of taking seriously any alleged concern about fare evasion from Metro. They incentivize and tolerate it with their ridiculous paper transfer policy. I see many, many more thumbing through their transfer collection for the color of the day than slipping in the back door at a busy stop.

        It was kinda nice to not have to shout BACKDOOR and hope the driver hears you on the occasional bus, but I guess we can’t have nice things.

      4. If the system actually got rid of the need to shout “back door” that would have been great. But in my experience that wasn’t the case.

        Plenty of times, the light never came on and I (or whoever was trying to get off) had to shout “back door” anyway. The driver had to activate the light, and it seems just as easy to forget to do that as it is to forget to hit the “open back door” button.

        The difference with the new door opening system is that when someone did shout “back door,” several other passengers felt the need to chime in and tell them to just touch the door. Sometimes, when the light was actually on, that was valid advice. But when it wasn’t, it was super frustrating to be shouting “back door” at the driver and “I am touching the door” at the other passengers, all at the same time.

  3. Touch-to-open and its variations step-down-to-open, push-lever-to-open, etc work well in other cities (San Francisco, Chicago, etc) but it failed here for two reasons. One, riders weren’t used to it, and two, it was implemented only on some buses (the newest bus fleet). I was an early adopter but even I kept forgetting because a lot of buses don’t have it and that kept unreinforcing it, and when I’m thinking about other things I don’t notice yellow signs or the words don’t register or I can’t translate thought into action in time. The worst thing is the old articulated buses that have only one rear door behind the articulation: that strongly disincentivizes people sitting in front from exiting in the rear, because it’s a long way to walk if you’re carrying things or tired, there are people standing in the way, or you fall into somebody’s lap walking across the articulation while the bus is moving and there’s no handhold. Metro can try again when all the buses have touch-to-open and rear doors in front of the articulation.

    It’s the same problem with the “Fare-Paid Zone” signs: people are looking straight ahead (not up at the upper walls), and if they’re thinking of something else the signs don’t register, they’re just part of the background. That’s why it’s important to have a small doorway to pass through and the ORCA reader visible in front and right at hand, so that it feels like going through a turnstyle even if there’s no actual turnstyle. Not having this is a design flaw, and the money spent on fining people would be better spent on improving the design so that accidental non-taps don’t happen. That’s what the airplane makers did in cockpits to improve flight safety: design out the opportunities for user error, and those kinds of user errors won’t happen.

  4. Another occasion where I lose respect for humanity, or more precisely, Americans. If someone can’t learn something this simple, I’m not sure I want them leaving their home. Though, I do feel like the vast majority of riders learned to push the spot marked “push to open” a long time ago, and this policy change feels very much like a delayed reaction.

    1. It wasn’t an automatic sensor always “on”, the driver had to turn it on at every stop. If the driver was inattentive of the back door its a waste of technology.

      You would have thought the sensor would kick on whenever the front door was opened for passengers. But that was not the case.

  5. Grrr. Stupid decision. We take them out because some people still yelled “back door!?” And now we’re back to everyone yelling “back door!” How about giving people a little time to learn. Instead, after a few years of this we have bus drivers who never open the back door and don’t hear our shouts even though that’s how we’re told to leave the bus. Grrr.

    1. Yeah I don’t understand why this is an either/or situation? Can’t they leave it on for those of us capable of reading a simple sign? What about visitors from other places?

    2. Lots of people are yelling “back door” because they don’t pull the stop cord for their stop. The driver, rightly assuming nobody is getting off, only opens the front door for passengers to board.

    3. There are several different situations where people shout “Back door!” One is when the door is supposed to open but the driver doesn’t open it or activate the “push-to-open” feature. Another is when passengers don’t realize the door is waiting for them to push it. Alex’s point about not pulling the stop cord overlaps with the first, it gets into why the driver didn’t open the door: did s/he think nobody is getting off, is s/he busy with another issue like wheelchair boarding, or did s/he forget to check whether anybody is there.

  6. I really liked the touch to leave doors. I thought it was a great tool to encourage leave from the back door and gave the passenger some agency. (Are you really expecting the ave Seattlelite to yell ‘backdoor’ in a loud enough voice?.) I thought most riders had learned the touch by now. Plus, once you see the yellow strip around the door a couple of times, you don’t have to read it to know.

    The issue that I could see with it is that you did need at least one hand free to touch it, so if you had groceries or a child and stroller it might be a problem. But I can’t say it happened that often.

    I’d say it ‘failed’ here because 15 complaints is considered failure here.

    1. You don’t have to actually touch it. You just have to break the beam. Tipping your grocery bag forward would be enough to trigger it.

    2. 15 formal complaints is the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of people have problems but don’t file complaint forms. If ST thinks the formal complaints are the only times the escalators are broken….

    3. 15 complaints since July 2017. I’m sure there were more in the other two years, but I didn’t ask Jeff to do an exhaustive search of customer complaints.

      Conversely, it’s not often that people write in to Metro to rave about a new fleet feature.

  7. “Deleting this option from the order will save $155 per unit.”

    And will cost thousands of dollars per bus in longer dwell times.

    1. My understanding of this issue is more detailed. The touch to open feature has been not very reliable due to a number of quality issues. One being the touch to open feature can set the interlock and make it stuck on. That disables the coach. Then it cannot be sent out until it is repaired which can take 4-8 hours (if the part is even in stock). The next morning an entire trip is lost due to a feature that is not very reliable. If there was not a history of reliability issues then I would agree with keeping it on. And if the public demands it stay on they should ask VAPOR why their product line is subpar. The $155 per coach only covers the initial purchase. The labor and parts are higher. Metro is already missing runs due to labor shortages. Time should not be wasted on this one gadget.

      1. It works in almost every other city on earth. This is just another case of Seattle thinking they’re special for absolutely no reason.

      2. “It” does not exist in other cities. Many cities have rider-triggered doors, but few have this technology.

      3. Then why, once again, do we feel we have to do something different than other cities? It’s annoying returning from some place that in no way should have better features than we do, and find that, yes, rear door activators work elsewhere, or fare gates on at-grade stations work, or accurate bus time indicators (on app and at stops) exist, or simple cross-network smart card use/transfers work on all modes of transit, or discounted fares for using electronic media exist… ad infinitum. There are things we do well here, but others that just leave me shaking my head and wondering if maybe next time I should drive.

        I’d really like the system to be set up to be readily usable for visitors – not that it’s what the system exists for, just that if someone who isn’t from here can figure out how to get around using our transit system it will be that much easier for someone from here to do it. We always seem to be reinventing the wheel, yet have never seemed to have come up with something ground-breaking by so doing.

    2. “Deleting this option saves approximately 1 service hour worth $155. 5 seconds of delay every 5 minutes, 20 hours a day, over the 20-year service life of a bus costs approximately $375,100.”

      1. I agree with your assessment. Time is very valuable. If I worked at Metro I would have made other decisions like getting better quality control. I only talk to mechanics so I don’t know what the issues would be for drivers. Metro has many more options on their coaches they do not use. The public probably does not even know they are there.

  8. Good to hear the buses here have the expected interlock that prevents driving with an open door. I was at the back of a bus in Rome that just took off with back door open. This driver was already the most lead footed bus driver I’d ever experienced, and those bumpy cobble streets did nothing to help. Luckily everyone had a handhold

  9. I consider myself a pretty savvy person, but I always had anxiety whether the back door would open when I touched it or not, and I’m not an anxious person. I’ve never had the issues with other cities’ “push to open” back doors like I’ve had with Metro’s Sometimes I felt like Bart when he sold his soul and automatic doors wouldn’t open for him :/

  10. I was on a RapidRide bus this morning where the operator had inadvertently turned on touch to exit and made an announcement that “the rear doors are not working” at every stop. At one stop someone touched the rearmost door and lo and behold, it opened. I also touched the rear door to exit, then walked to the front to inform him. He initially denied that it was set that way ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Wow. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this trail failed entirely because of operator error.

  11. This brings up the question of why we on the 21 always have to yell at the drivers to open the back doors. The drivers will rarely open the back doors until multiple people shout for them to do so, and on a few occasions I’ve seen people have to wait for the next stop because the drivers just won’t open the back doors even with a chorus of us pleading for them to do so. I would love to have this kind of system to free us from being held hostage on the bus by inattentive and disdainful route 21 drivers.

    Isn’t it Metro policy that riders are supposed to exit by the rear doors? Why don’t the drivers just open them at all stops? This situation is bordering on theater of the absurd.

    1. In Mexico you say “Bajan” (they descend) to open the doors rather than “Bajo” (I descend), because the driver might not open the door for just one person, but will if he thinks multiple people are getting off there.

    2. From §11.06 Customer Loading Procedures (Door Operation):

      With the exception of RapidRide service (see Section 16) and inbound Vashon service (see Routes 116, 118 and 119 in the Route Book), Metro buses operate on a pay-on-entry system.
      • Use the front door for loading customers.
      • Riders are encouraged to exit through the back door whenever possible; this speeds up boarding, especially in the CBD.
      ◦ Anyone may exit through the front door.
      ◦ Note: The Night Stop Program uses front door only for deboarding.
      Rear Door Procedures
      • Open the rear door whenever customers are waiting at the rear door to exit. This applies both to day and night service. (Note: The Night Stop Program uses front door only operation for stops made outside of posted bus zones.)
      • Carefully monitor the interior customer mirror for customers moving toward the rear door to disembark. Open the rear door to allow them to exit.
      • Check the interior rear stairwell mirror to ensure that the rear doorway area is clear before closing the rear door. Watch the rear door fully close to ensure that no one is trapped in the door.
      • Should an intending customer board through the rear door, play the appropriate Public Service Announcement (PSA) or use the PA system once only to remind the customer of the fare payment procedure. Do not get into a fare dispute.

      And just for grins, the Night Stop program:

      11.19 Metro’s Night Stop Program The Night Stop Program allows riders to exit at any safe location from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly, except within the boundaries of the CBD or on limited access highways or freeways. Your professional judgment determines if the stop is safe.
      • This program does not apply to Sound Transit (ST) express bus service. For information on Sound Transit’s limited Night Stop Program, see Rule 11.20 below.
      • This program does not apply to boarding customers.
      • Customers in wheelchairs must be discharged only at accessible stops.
      Rules for Stopping:
      • Use the front door only.
      • Do not stop within one block of a left turn.
      • Do not stop on the nearside of an intersection or in the middle of an intersection.
      Safety must always be the primary consideration when discharging customers at locations other than established bus stops. Considerations in evaluating stop requests include line of sight (for other traffic), evenness of the road surface, lighting, traffic flow and curbing.

      §11.20 Sound Transit Limited Night Stop Program
      From 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, customers riding ST Regional Express Bus service may exit in any marked bus zone outside of the CBD even if it is not designated for ST Regional Express Bus service. ST customers may not exit outside a marked bus zone.

    3. Tell me more about this “inbound Vashon service”. If it’s not pay-as-you-enter, what is it?

      1. As he linked, it’s pay-as-you-exit, but only for inbound, Seattle-zone trips. If you board on the island and ride one of the lucky 3 trips that actually drives onto the ferry and goes directly downtown, you pay a 2-zone fare on entry, get a transfer, and get your transfer checked on exit. All other 118/119 trips force a transfer to the ferry and 116.
        That explains the what, but not the why.

        These buses make a stop literally ON the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
        At this stop, all-door boarding is allowed and no fares are collected.
        My theory is that WSDOT insists on this policy to get the buses off of their dock faster, but I have no inside information that would prove this.

  12. Too many times I had seen people pounding on the yellow touch decal and the green lights were not on. They had a to yell back door and then the driver would turn on the sensor so they could finally touch to open.

    I’m not sure why it wasn’t more automatic.

    I ride the 41 or 77 daily and connect up to first hill on the 2/3/4. Reverse commute is 303 and connect to the 41/347/348.

    Driver inattention to the back door happened everywhere.

  13. As an operator, I say good riddance. It was highly inefficient. Aside from all of the confusion — passengers cursing at me for either not opening the door or closing it too soon — it just wastes time. Once a door opens, it cannot close for about 5 seconds. If I open the doors as soon as we arrive at a stop, then they’re ready to close once riders have exited. If I wait for rider to open door (sometimes twice), it just adds precious seconds to lag time at each stop. I’ve missed so many green lights because of this system.

    Also, Why did Metro even install this on RapidRide coaches in the first place? All door boarding requires all doors opening!

  14. I’ve seen both sides of this. As someone who consistently fails to get bathroom automatic sinks to turn on, I’m inherently skeptical about this sort of system. And most times I rode a bus with “touch to exit” doors, the driver would automatically open the back doors at each stop. I think I’ve had to open doors by tapping a grand total of twice. And I’ve seen several passengers on older buses still trying to tap the back doors open when the driver fails to open them rather than shouting “back door!”.

    My experience is that the shouting only works when there is a cascade of voices. Most people’s voices on a crowded bus don’t carry all the way to the driver. So there needs to be passengers near the middle and front of the bus who immediately echo “back door” as soon as they hear it.

    There are also people who stand by the back door, wait a few seconds for the door to open. And if it doesn’t open, they get frustrated and then hustle to the front door and collide with the stream of boarding passengers.

    I don’t see a need to discontinue the program, but I also don’t see reason why drivers don’t just open the back door at all stops.

  15. I’ve seen people try to touch the door to open on the older buses. It looks really funny.

    1. I nearly got into an argument with someone who insisted the system was active on every single bus in the fleet, including ST buses. This was on a RapidRide that never had them, the drivers are just good about always opening the rear doors.

  16. You’d think that for $155 per vehicle they could keep ordering it on new buses. That way if they chose to re-implement it in the future it reduces the issue of poor utilization because of only a few buses having the system.

  17. Couple problems I experienced with the feature was that if you touched the door prior to the system being in a state that a touch (or beam crossing) would open the door, it wouldn’t open (duh). But it also seemed that if the beam was interrupted when the system did go into the state that a touch would open the door, you actually had to move your hand out of the way of the beam, then break it again. This seemed to cause confusion, as the door wasn’t always available to be opened *immediately* after the bus came to a stop. So some people (including me) would but their hand on the door, press a bit, see nothing happen, wait a second (without removing their hand from the door), and press it again and still see nothing happen.

    The other problem was the incredibly short amount of time that needed to pass after the beam was not being broken before the doors would start to close (I think it was 1 second by default). This caused problems when there was a straggler wanting to get off — the doors would start to close on them. Or when people got off the bus to let others off, waited a tick to make sure no one else was coming, and then started to get back on — the doors would again start to close on them. I suggested re-programming this to bump the time up a second or two. People rightly got frustrated when the doors closed on them, and I would bet that some of them probably blamed the operator for it (“why are you closing the doors on me?!”) It’s a particularly bad problem when you think of that happening to an elderly person or a child. I would imagine the force of the doors closing (before sufficient counter-force was applied to make them open back up) would in some cases be sufficient to injure an elderly person, but it could also startle them and/or knock them off-balance and cause a fall.

    A pressure sensor on the rubber part of the door and increased time before signaling the door to close could solve these issues. But I agree with others that this tech is overwrought and mostly a solution in search of a problem.

    1. Ah! Your post appeared as I wrote mine. Glad I wasn’t the only one frustrated by the quick lockout. When I board RapidRide to West Seattle, it’s quite often so full that I have to step off and on at the first 2 WS stops to make way for others actually getting off.

      Probably a majority of times I step out the back door of a RapidRide coach I’m actually planning to get right back in.

    2. There actually is a pneumatic sensor in the rubber section of back doors of most busses in America including Metro’s. They have been there for over 30 years. It reopens when you or your arm gets stuck in the door. It is also made by Vapor. They were called drunk alarms early on. They are usually referred to as sensitive edges. When they feel your arm upon closing they open and stay open for I believe 3 seconds. An alarm is sent to the driver on the dash. All Metro busses have it. Even the Touch to open busses. It is used as a backup on those. And it is more reliable.

  18. One big downside to the rear doors closing automatically with that system, rather than at the bus operator’s discretion, was stranding people who had to step out the back door to make way for others before hopping back on. Operators are pretty good at keeping it open for us to get back on.

  19. Good riddance! Some things I am interested in (not sure if they’re actually measurable) are the costs of 1) fare evasion, 2) fuel/environmental from the extra seconds added to the less-efficient door-close now, and 3) cold/flu transmission from the touch strip. The last one is a bit of a joke, but honestly I was pretty happy when I discovered I didn’t actually have to touch the strip, I could just wave my hand through the beam once the light was on. If the “interior customer mirror” is too hard for operators to monitor, I wonder why they don’t install something similar to a backup cam so they can just keep an eye on things back there on a screen up front?

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