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Livable City

The Rear Door Problem With Muni’s New Hybrid Buses

5:25 PM PDT on April 21, 2009

3433763690_074a44bcd6.jpgPhoto by Tony Vi

If you've ridden any of Muni's new low-floor hybrids you've most
likely encountered or witnessed the sometimes challenging task of opening
the rear doors. The buses, from Orion Bus Industries, have a fault that
prevents them from realizing the full benefits of the low-floor design.

What
should be a seemingly simple task is hampered by the contact-less
sensor system used to open the rear doors.  The sensors, called CLASS
(contact-less acoustic sensor system PDF), are designed to detect someone
attempting to exit, and keep the doors open as riders make they their
way out.

With all the desperate pushing of the rear doors, the yelling of “back door!” and the occasional rider running to the front to exit, the
system doesn’t seem to live up to the needs of Muni riders.

Some operators I interviewed said the doors are taking a beating from frustrated riders. But when the operators walk back and explain, riders are amazed at the simplicity. However, the directions to open the rear doors (“Touch here to open”) are just not doing the trick.

I conducted a research project (PDF) for Livable City in which I attempted to quantify the average
amount of time it takes to open the rear doors, and if it adversely
negates the benefits of the low-floor design.  The new low-floor
buses allowed riders to disembark faster.  However, riders on the
new buses took an average of nearly 1.5 seconds to open the rear doors
versus the brisk 0.20 seconds with the traditional touch bars on the
older high floor counterparts.  Combined together, riders required
more time to open the rear doors and exit on the new buses than the
old buses.  If Muni fixed the rear doors, the new buses would be
more efficient, less confusing, and money well spent.   

I recommend a few simple actions the
MTA should take to correct the rear doors: 

    • Have informational ads in multiple languages to inform the public on how to open the rear doors.
    • Ensure bus operators have the ability to open the rear door remotely.
    • Retrofit existing low-floor buses with traditional touch bars, replacing the contactless sensor systems.
    • Have touch bars open the door with the contactless sensors to keep the door open.

Tom Radulovich, the Livable City executive director, said every transit agency should be doing this type of research.

"Agencies too often make changes to their service or equipment without
bothering to understand how the users like it. The rear door study also
addresses the question of how to get Muni moving faster, a pressing
concern raised by Muni's Transit Effectiveness Project. The study's
findings that the low-floor vehicles reduce dwell time, but that the
yellow strip to open doors is counter-intuitive and wastes time, will help Muni design future vehicles that are both friendlier to customers and reduce dwell times at transit stops."

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