SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT “Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The Americans with Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

The SFMTA’s demonstration of why high platforms wouldn’t work with the “wheel lugs” on Muni buses. Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA wrote that no other BRT system in North America has solved this problem without installing bridge plates, which are used on the EmX BRT system in Eugene, Oregon, and are planned for East Bay BRT. However, that approach presents complications, because Van Ness BRT buses would also serve non-BRT stops, the SFMTA report says:

[W]heelchair using passengers boarding outside the BRT corridor would board at the front door. Then they would have to maneuver through the bus to the middle door where the bridge plate would be available to alight in the BRT corridor… Requiring a passenger in a wheelchair to maneuver from one part of the coach to another would be difficult for all customers on board and increase in dwell time.

In addition, using bridge plates would require having them installed on the entire SFMTA rubber tired fleet or having a limited subset of vehicles which could operate on BRT corridor.

SFMTA’s litany of reasons also included the difficulty 14-inch-high platforms would pose for passengers stepping off to load bikes onto a bus’s front bike rack, since the platforms are twice as high as the seven-inch height of a typical step. High platforms would also be incompatible with Golden Gate Transit’s high-floor buses, which would also use the corridor, the report says.

The ITDP scorecard notes that “there are a range of measures to achieve gaps of less than 5 cm (2 in.), including guided busways at stations, alignment markers, Kassel curbs, and boarding bridges.” The SFMTA report says that “no docking technology or driver skill can guarantee a docking that is within the ADA limits 100 percent of the time,” and that bus floors can often be as low as 13 inches, rendering wheelchair ramps “unusable.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors, said he’s “not convinced that the costs of level boarding are too high, but I’m also not convinced that the solution the MTA is proposing is necessarily a bad one.”

Radulovich said the need to build infrastructure that’s “backwards compatible” with Muni’s existing vehicles is “understandable,” but that it puts Muni in a “trap” if they never undertake an upgrade of its existing transit platforms.

“They don’t want to have two different types of vehicles — so we’ll always keep this obsolete standard, so they’re compatible with the older vehicles,” he said. “You can never get out of that.”

  • helloandyhihi

    Ridiculous. Bullshit. Welcome to San Francisco.

  • ZeeGold

    Van Ness BRT hasn’t even purchased it’s vehicles yet. I smell BS.

  • wskrayen

    On a true BRT system, the buses are a subset of the fleet. So SFMTA is doing the reverse of what many cities do. Many cities buy BRT buses, but don’t build the dedicated infrastructure. SFMTA is building the infrastructure, but not buying the BRT buses. How Muni is that……. Oh and Eugene EmX BRT buses are a special subset of the LTS (Lane Transit District) fleet, 5-doors, BRT styling, and color scheme.

  • Chris

    The rendering is out of date. SFMTA has decided not to include shelters at the BRT stops. Enjoy waiting for the bus in the rain!

  • Bruce

    What rain?

  • david vartanoff

    If SFMTA can’t figure out how to do level boarding the board and ANY planner who signed off on this travesty should be fired, instanter. In general I am not a supporter of BRT, but if we are going to spend money on overly cute buses the least we can do is make it work in a rider friendly manner.

  • Jim

    The 49R will more than likely use the 60-foot New Flyer trolleys set to arrive next year, and for the 47R, whatever 40/60-foot bus they plan to procure over the next few years to replace the current Neoplans. It was never MTA’s intention to buy buses specifically for BRT service. You can find this in the planning documents and CAC minutes on the SFCTA website.

  • Why exactly cant Kassel curbs be used? They work perfectly well in Europe.

    And if they ABSOLUTELY CANNOT do 14 inches…why not 12? Or 10? Why all the way down to 6?

  • 94110

    I’m really failing to be irate at Muni over this. Everything seems sensible. Everything but ADA that is. Not fighting ADA by just not making it level boarding seems one of the smartest decisions I’ve read about on SB lately.

    I’ll save my rage for Geary BRT, high floor LRVs, the T Third turn backs and turn around, the Central Subway, putting the M underground where it already has dedicated ROW, Caltrain (see http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com and pick anything), free Sunday parking, BART to OAK, and the entire city of Palmdale (if that is in fact a real place).

    I could go on for quite a while before one 8″ step would make my list.

  • Andy Chow

    Because of the closely spaced stops along that route, there won’t be any “local” route running in parallel to the busway routes. Too early to suggest that they would use R to differentiate the service.

  • Sprague

    How about low floor buses – so passengers could easily enter and exit the bus at all stops? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-floor_bus

  • Sprague
  • jonobate

    That’s pretty much exactly how Van Ness BRT will look when boarding, except the buses will be electric. The problem is that even with the small gap and small step up you see there, wheelchairs will need a ramp deployed, so it won’t be true level boarding.

  • hp2ena

    Not all buses stopping on Van Ness will be low-floor. I think Golden Gate Transit intends to rehab its heavy-duty high-floor transit buses currently used on the basic routes (70, 80, 101), and if these routes continue to use high-floor vehicles, then there will be high-floor buses on Van Ness.

  • hp2ena

    Actually, the deal was that buses would be restricted to the BRT on Van Ness (hooray for Caltrans!) when it is built. Unsure whether this affects the tech shuttles, however.

  • twinpeaks_sf

    One cannot forget that these 47/49 buses will still continue on their extended routes after leaving the dedicated Van Ness BRT ROW. How would that be possible if they used high-floor buses, built for level boarding at BRT platforms? Would people prefer to transfer to low-floor buses once outside the BRT zone (i.e., south of Market St)?

    I think the low-floor models, so long as the buses are guided close to the the platform edge, will provide a sufficiently level surface. These buses will not only be compatible with the rest of the Muni system, but particularly the rest of the 47/49 lines. Also, while not as optimal as fully-level boarding for ADA access, Muni’s wheelchair lifts have gotten better over the years and should suffice. Other creative solutions might be available.

  • jonobate

    Fair point – I was just thinking of the Muni buses.

  • twinpeaks_sf

    And as for the ~5 inch gap the result of wheel lugs, I don’t see why the SFMTA couldn’t work with the bus fabricators to develop a narrower profile wheel hub.

  • Andy Chow

    No one is talking about South American style high floor buses and high platforms. The discussion is about whether the platform be several inches higher to match the floor of the bus. The problem is not the matching height but more about the gap. If a bridge plate is needed and that the front door cannot be used with level boarding (as the case in Eugene) then it would be inconsistent with the rest of Muni’s experience.

    In Seattle, buses share the downtown tunnel with light rail and that the stations have 14 inch platforms to provide level boarding for light rail. The buses have to use taller tires to clear the higher platform (make it not level boarding) and to allow deployment of standard wheelchair ramp. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/Sound_Transit_DE60LFR.jpg

    If level boarding with the bus is actually easy why wouldn’t Seattle have embrace it rather than the opposite?

  • ComradeFrana

    I’m pretty sure that’s actually a pretty normal curb, which usually means ~200 mm height, so obviously not much level boarding. These are much better examples:

    Notice especially how the wheels don’t protrude and royally f**k things up.

  • jonobate

    I think it’s pretty likely they will. According to current plans (the approved TEP), the two Muni routes on Van Ness will be 47L and 49L. However the 5L is marked as 5R on the snippet of the new Muni map that was released recently. If they are going to rename the 5L to 5R and brand it as “Rapid”, it’s very likely they will do the same with the 47L and 49L.

  • Sprague

    Thanks for the explanation. With such or with similar low floor buses, boarding should generally be fast and if a wheelchair ramp is deployed it should be a faster operation than the current wheelchair lifts require.

  • runn3r85

    This is the plan to delay Van Ness BRT even more! 2025 here we come!

  • jonobate

    Yeah, it’s much better than everyone having to struggle up three tall steps to get into the bus, which really slows down boarding for seniors and people who have trouble walking. And for people in wheelchairs, boarding using a ramp deployed from a low floor vehicle (see image) is much quicker than boarding using a lift into a high floor vehicle, as is the current procedure.

    This is also why low floor LRVs would be a great upgrade to the J/K/L/M/N lines, even without building any new platforms on the surface streets. Low floor platforms (about 15 inches) could be gradually added to those lines to provide true level boarding; but even without new platforms, the boarding experience would be greatly improved. Only downside is that you’d need to convert the 9 subway stations to low floor platforms.



  • Andy Chow

    That Muni map is just conceptual and may contain opinions of the artist rather than an actual policy.

    All these Muni BRT corridors will feature very local stop spacings (although normal Muni stop spacing is closer than most transit systems), unlike more suburban systems like LA and VTA where the stops for the rapid service is a half-mile to a mile apart. The L designation is to differentiate the line from local service on the same corridor.

  • JB10

    The whole “center of the road” BRT concept is flawed and a massive waste of public money. Not to mention all the mature trees to ripped up on Van Ness.

    A more cost-effective solution would be to make the current route a “red route” ie, no parking within the red together with limited parking bays. This is what they do in London and it works pretty well.

    So a few cans of red paint versus years of digging up the road…

  • neroden

    Oh, just build MUNI rail. This route needs rail anyway.

  • Looks like Conencticut has not problem with level boarding


  • J

    Lugnuts are what’s stopping Muni from building platform-level stations? Are you kidding me??

    Seriously, if cities in India, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, China, Ecuador, Peru, and Guatemala can all figure out how to build BRT systems with platform level boarding, surely San Francisco can figure it out as well. And I’m pretty sure they use lugnuts on their buses as well.

  • 94110

    Most (or at least many) of those “mature trees” are Eucalyptus. Ripping them out goes in the list of positives, not negatives.

  • Andy Chow

    Remember all those countries don’t have ADA so they can have something that can be considered level boarding according to laypersons even though they are not ADA compliant (ADA has very specific technical requirements).

    Most of the standard buses in developing countries have high steps, poor emission standards, and lack of air conditioning. A lot of them don’t operate as a transit system but a bunch of small companies competing for business. The BRT lines may often have the largest and best buses in that city.

    In Muni’s case, the busway is meant to speed up existing routes that crisscross the city, and that they will use the current fleet (purchase off-the-shelf “buy America” compliant) rather than obtaining a special fleet for that route.

  • J

    Crying ADA seems like a poor excuse for a problem that many many cities have solved. You can maybe have station platforms with multiple boarding areas for different level buses. You can maybe get new wheels that don’t have lugnuts that stick out 6 inches or new lugnuts. You can SOLVE the problem instead of making excuses.

    By building sub-standard BRT, you’re not only doing a disservice to customers, you’re giving BRT itself a bad name in the area. When people experience significantly slower boarding times, they’re not going to think, “yes it’s slow, but the lugnuts and ADA meant that this was best they could do”. No, they’ll think, “this sucks, i wish they’d built light rail”, a much more expensive solution that takes longer to build and has less service possibilities.

  • Andy Chow

    The issue is whether it is worth the cost and hassles to solve the problem. Essentially, you need dedicated buses with bridge plates to make it ADA compliant. You won’t be able to run other buses and they will have to stay on the main roadway and use curb stops, denying them with the benefit of exclusive busway.

    Dedicated vehicles mean additional maintenance cost and removing operational flexibility.

    The benefit of level boarding is marginal compared to the current boarding situation with only 1 step. The time saving is very little for most abled bodied folks, as well as for people with strollers and luggage. For the disabled folks, level boarding means changing doors when they board or exit at a BRT stop and a non-BRT stop, and that they still need to have a ramp deployed (whether it is a standard bus ramp or a bridge plate) to board or exit.

  • J

    The problem is that you’re thinking about this as a bus upgrade, and not as a bus rapid transit corridor. You want better service but want to do it on the cheap. Yes, you can save money by cutting things here and there and not dealing with certain issues, but each time you do, it comes at the expense of service and the prospects of future BRT.

    The advantage of BRT over light rail is that it can provide a comparable and often better service for a much cheaper price. However, when you water down a project like this, BRT starts to fall short of LRT in terms of service quality and speed, and people stop caring about the cost savings and focus their attention on the service deficiencies.

  • Able Ben

    Is there a reason we’re not talking about replacing the wheels with ones that don’t stick out?

  • Sanfordia113

    How does that change anything? SF BRT should not be designed around Marin County deficiencies. Nor should SFMTA succomb to its own sunk costs – a matter I warned them about several years ago, yet they continue to through good money after bad.

  • cjlane

    Won’t someone think of the koalas?!?!

  • David D.

    Your proposal was one of the design alternatives studied for this project. You can read up on it by checking out the EIR, etc. Ultimately, your proposal did not fair that well compared to center-running BRT, and therefore center-running BRT was selected as the preferred option.

  • David D.

    The Van Ness BRT corridor will be served by more than just BRT. Muni’s 76 line will also run along the corridor, as will all of Golden Gate Transit’s routes. Are you proposing that we buy dedicated equipment for all of that service too? That certainly seems like a waste of money to me.

  • David D.

    Name one heavy-duty transit bus that has wheels that don’t stick out. Wouldn’t Muni just switch wheels if it were as simple as that?

  • It is the front hubs (and probably the axle) that would need to be changed. Not just the wheel. This is not a small job. But still worth considering, especially when ordering new buses as this likely only the first of a series of BRT lines.


    Why cannot Muni spend the $300 MILLION on underground transit? Much more densely populated cities internationally have done it with less funds and in less time. Reference Hong Kong, Seoul, and England. Some claim it is too costly, but the harsh reality is the costs will only increase in the future. The aboveground BRT proposals are all flawed. The BRT is an environmental, economical, community, and safety NIGHTMARE.

    Tearing up the Geary corridor in SF is asinine. During the course of this construction, Geary corridor will turn into a warzone. Remember all of the environment improvements that occurred in 2016? All the plants and beautification? It is going to get all destroyed and teared up! What a wonderful use of tax payer monies! To add insult to injury, the construction along Geary will severely impact the safety for pedestrians, motorists, and even bicyclists. But the worst part is the BRT plan does not even factor in what will happen with all of the diverted traffic from Geary onto the adjacent side streets (Anza, Balboa, Euclid, California, Clement and all the intersecting streets too)! Currently the side streets are already packed with local residents and businesses parking. But with the construction on Geary, not only will parking spaces be removed for the asinine redzones, but the delivery to businesses and parking used by customers will be removed too. The engineering geniuses working on the BRT propose IDEAL conditions only. The same applied to the time travel savings. It is all based only in theory! In reality the construction will last longer than 4 years and it will costs well over 300 MILLION.

    The BRT plan is all flawed. MTA promises 4 minute wait time for buses. Guess what, it already is 4 minutes! MTA promises time savings of up to 20 minute round trip. That is IMPOSSIBLE unless you stick it either underground or fly. Going from one end of Geary Blvd alone to Market St (takes over 30 minutes). How the hell can MTA shave off 20 minutes? Pure propaganda and LIES from MTA regarding the BRT benefits.

    Lastly, there is a reason why this project was FORCED down the throats of San Franciscans during the 2016 holidays. There are new members joining the outgoing Board of Supervisors. There was an Engineer Impact Report released during the holidays and then, notices were only POSTED in December about the report and the VOTING DECISION for January 5, 2017! The MTA and Board of Supervisors only allowed 20 business days for the public to read the dense report. All this happened during the holidays. Would it surprise you that NONE of the Board of Supervisors actually read the report and understood it? They all rubberstamped the BRT proposal and now you, the SF taxpayer will be left with the 300 MILLION BILL and enjoy the “benefits” of the FOUR YEAR PLUS construction and environmental MESS they created. The only people benefiting from this project are the construction businesses that get the construction bids; everyone else who is actually impacted will get hosed.

    Do not believe the propaganda you read about the “time savings” or the benefits. The MTA and the BRT project serve only the interests of the select few.


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