Heavy riders squeezing Bay Area bus space 

The average transit passenger in America is getting wider — and those expanding waistlines could lead to fewer passengers on the Bay Area’s already-overcrowded buses.

Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration announced plans to reclassify the average weight of a transit passenger from 150 pounds (a standard from the early 1960s) to 175 pounds. The new protocols will go into effect next year and will require vehicle manufacturers to adjust seating and standing-room modifications to accommodate fuller-bodied riders.

Muni’s 60-foot-long articulated buses currently have a capacity of 54 sitting passengers and 70 standing riders. Under the formula for the revamped guidelines, which allot 1.75 square feet per passenger instead of 1.5 square feet, the number of standees would be reduced to 60. Seats would also need to be wider, so there could be fewer places to sit.

“This could be a total disaster,” said Jerry Cauthen, a transit activist and former Muni engineer. “On Muni’s heavily used lines, buses are already very overcrowded. With these new regulations, you could see more and more people stuck on the sidewalk waiting to get on a bus.”

With the weight-change announcement just a few days old, many public transportation organizations are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new guidelines.

Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, said it was too early to tell how the changes would affect the agency’s bus fleet, but he said he didn’t think the new restrictions would be a major problem.

The new weight rules would be enforced one year from now, and wouldn’t grandfather in existing vehicles, according to the FTA. Muni officials have said they’ll need to order 200 new buses over the next three to four years.

Bryan Miller, spokesman for Daimler-Chrysler, which manufactured 86 low-boarding buses that the SFMTA purchased in 2007, said it was too early to tell what impact the new weight restrictions will have on vehicle designs and carrying capacity. He said the company has until May to review the proposals and offer any feedback to the FTA on the changes.

Bob Planthold, a local transit activist, said the new weight restrictions would benefit seniors and people with disabilities. Muni’s seats are too small for many seniors, and a wider design would be easier to access for disabled passengers, Planthold said. He also said wider, more comfortable seats could lure more passengers out of their cars.

“Most people don’t want to travel on public transportation because it’s too cramped and uncomfortable,” Planthold said. “These new guidelines could change that experience.”

Tight quarters

The feds reclassified transit riders’ weight.

150 pounds: Current average weight of a transit passenger, as defined by the FTA
175 pounds: Average weight set to be imposed next March
1.5 square feet: Average room currently needed for each transit passenger
1.75 square feet: Average room set be needed for each passenger in March 2012
70: Standing passengers allowed on Muni’s 60-foot long articulated buses
60: Standing passengers allowed under new FTA formula

Source: SFMTA, FTA

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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