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.