What If We Took Half the Seats Out of Buses?

You clicked this post! Thank you! I am sorry for titling it with a question. That’s terrible. However, I have a question:

What if we took half the seats out of buses?

Sorry if that sounds crazy! But do you take the bus? A local route in one of the cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) that gets used a lot, like a 6 or a 21 or an 18 or a 5? Anything that travels down Nicollet Mall or Hennepin Avenue during rush hour?

Wouldn’t it be better if we took all the aisle seats out?

Here are some buses:

Bus CongestionCongestionStrollersLook at the stroller and walker! That’s crazy. That happens. I don’t blame them! What else can they do? Babies can’t drive! Or even Nice Ride.

I swear, one time, I was on a 10 or an 11 or something like that, and all the seats were arranged longitudinally, like the accessible two + three seats in the front of the bus near the driver just kept going to the back of the bus. Or at least halfway back, I can’t remember if it was a low-floor bus or not. That’s a great arrangement.

I’ve seen some of these and thought to take a picture at some point:


This is good! This creates an area where people are able to shift around and rotate and contort to get off the bus and/or move back in the aisle. On very crowded buses, lots and lots of time is spent finagling ourselves around each other to enter or exit the bus, and even more time is spent passive aggressively groaning loudly at one large person who stands in the aisle and doesn’t move back as six or seven more people are trying to board.

So what if we just took out all the aisle seats on the busiest local route buses, and turned the remaining seats so they’re up against the wall, facing the new, larger aisle? Or at least the first half, from the driver to the exit door.

Interior navigation would be improved exponentially! That would leave more than enough seats on your average bus for older passengers or younger passengers carrying kitty litter. After it clears downtown and stops a few times, it thins out a bunch, and people can sit down if need be. Throw some more graspable tie things on the bars on the ceiling, and you’re set.

Other benefits:

  • More than one stroller or one wheelchair would not ruin everything
  • Many people still take up much less space while standing than while sitting
  • The psychological space of the interior would feel a lot different–you’re not picking one person to sit by or not sit by and vice versa
  • The absolute worst part of transit, the Nicollet Mall and/or Lake Street cattlecar experience, would be way, way better

Am I missing something? Is this idea crazy? Is the company that makes the buses actually a subsidiary of the company that makes the fabric on the bus seats, à la Sheinhardt Wig Company/NBC? Am I underestimating the amount of people who are already standing on the 17 all the way to St. Louis Park? Why have we not done this already?

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.

23 thoughts on “What If We Took Half the Seats Out of Buses?

  1. Aaron Berger

    My bus route (25) is relatively minor, but by the time it gets to me (less than a mile from its start) the bus is often 2/3 full. I like to do work on the bus – it’s part of the tradeoff between 45 minutes each way on the bus and 20 minutes each way by car. That wouldn’t be possible if I had to stand the whole way. With the existing arrangement (both on my route and the 17, which I sometimes take) the seats don’t usually fill up until you’re relatively close to downtown, at which point you’re probably not doing a whole lot of work on the bus. Standing on a moving bus for 15 minutes is way different than standing on a moving bus for 30 minutes.

  2. Matt Brillhart

    They should for sure move to the 2+1 seating arrangement, which would only result in the loss of a couple more seats beyond the “experiment” shown in your last photo. The column of single seats on the right side of the bus is perfect for users with strollers or walkers, etc. I think moving those folks away from the front entry area where they block the aisle would be beneficial.

    A couple reasons I can think of that they might not though:

    1. Standard 40′ buses have already lost a bunch of seats with the switch to low floor buses. They’re already down to 38 seats on the regular configuration, from 40 or 42 on high floor buses. Those wheel wells eat up a lot of space. Trade-off: Low-floor buses save a tremendous amount of time for folks with walkers, strollers, etc. not having to deploy the lift. Now only if wheelchair users could strap themselves in somehow or implement different tie-downs that don’t require the driver to get out of their seat… it really seems like we should have that ability in 2014.

    2. Metro Transit uses the same 40′ buses on express routes (both in-city and suburban) where the expectation is that everyone gets a seat due to freeway travel speeds and longer trips. Again, I feel like technology should be at the point where they can use a computer program to better sort and queue the buses in the garage to be able to know which buses are assigned to crush-load local routes and which ones are suited for express service. If they could do that, then I’d bet they’d be a lot more willing to take out seats. On the policy side, Metro Transit could simply change the criteria on express routes that use 40′ buses to allow 10% standing passengers (currently express routes are considered “over capacity” with just 1 person standing).

    And of course, if they’d move to 1/4-mile (every other block) stop spacing, ride quality would improve as there would be half the amount of swaying in and out of traffic, and half the amount of stopping and starting, both of which make it very uncomfortable to stand on a bus. Trips would be sped up a little too, making folks more willing to stand for trips longer than a few blocks.

  3. cindy

    It’s nice that you are a healthy guy who can easily stand up on a bus that is continually starting and stoping and that you don’t have to lug groceries or kids around. Count your blessings.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Certainly. And I think nick did a good job recognizing in the post that there are always going to be those with kids, cat litter, or are elderly/disabled who may want to use the seats. That’s why the proposal was only for half the seats to be removed, turning the remaining ones toward the center of the bus.

      I lug a kid around on the bus about 3-4 times a week (still young enough to use a baby carrier), bring groceries home, etc. But the vast majority of folks riding the bus, especially during crush-load rush hours, are solo with maybe a small tote or backback. Many of them are very able-bodied for whom standing isn’t a huge deal (they probably do it 50% of the days already via luck of the draw if seats are open).

      As noted by Matt B, 1/4 mile stop spacing would mean fewer uncomfortable stops. Building bus bulbs in the sidewalks would reduce lateral movement (uncomfortable swaying) associated with each bus stop. Continuing the changeover of the bus fleet to hybrid electrics will make the acceleration smoother. Signal priority (or holding the green for far-side stops) would mean less stopping at red lights. We can mitigate the negative effects of riding the bus to make standing easier, if only the city/county/MnDOT will allow us to prioritize transit with these designs…

      1. Students_TT

        Now that the Minneapolis signals are updated, Metro Transit is working with the City to put in Transit priority on critical routes. They’re actually working on the Central Ave timing priority right now. I don’t know what routes are next, but I think they have some systemized way to order the routes by importance or something. So thats a plus.
        Do you know the current % of hybrid buses on the fleet?

    2. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

      “younger passengers carrying kitty litter”

      This is me! I regularly carry all sorts of cargo, including some living (but not sentient) organisms like my cat. And groceries. Also a chair from IKEA once. And luggage. And so on. As is, it’s really hard to bring anything but a backpack past the accessible seats in the front–would be much easier if that area was opened up.

      In any case, this is all just a thought experiment.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I rode a 23 once that was in the format Bill links to. One annoying factor is that you don’t get to face forward, but are instead moved laterally, jostling into your neighbor. Because that bus also used the older seating format, more natural gaps appeared that would need to be — since it’s like a big bench, and people tend to self-select for more buffer than the bus designer might.

    I’d be supportive of removing one half of the seating on the lower floor, with 100% of the remaining seating on the lower floor priority for elderly/disabled/infirm. The wheelchair boarding process is so slow and tedious for everyone concerned, this would at least eliminate the need to move other passengers and fold up a seat first.

    Plus it might discourage people from just chilling in the exit doorwell.

    One other thing to improve bus flow: a tiny third door at the very back of the bus. They have these as standard in Oslo, and avoids people feeling trapped on the back of the bus. You’re also allowed to enter at any of the three doors, with card scanners available at each. In fact, I think strollers are encouraged to enter in the middle door.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Yeah, the sitting sideways thing is less comfortable than forward. I sit on the inward-facing seats on the articulated 94 every day, and they’re not perfect. They’re much better than the older buses with the vinyl seats – you slide less when the bus brakes, and the slight seat contour gives that little bit of a lip to keep you away from your neighbor.

      The rest of your suggestions are great.

    2. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      I don’t like the seats facing the aisle because it is difficult to handle the lateral jostling and stay modest while wearing a skirt. There is no room to cross one’s legs without blocking the aisle, but keeping knees locked together while rocking side-to-side is difficult.

  5. Eric SaathoffEric S

    This is interesting. It makes me think about designing parking lots for black Friday but leaving them very empty the rest of the time.
    It seems only certain routes would need this treatment, and it might be better in the long run to increase frequency or add an articulated bus in order to not compromise comfort and discourage “choice riders.”

    1. wayne

      Or, god forbid, actually invest in something like rail on extremely high ridership corridors instead of the woods. ):

  6. Faith

    I wonder if they could start using some of the articulated buses that used to be used for the 50 (and the 3 – which was mostly empty the last time I rode it after the green line opened) and switch them to the 5,6, 18 and the 21? That might take some reconfiguration of the Nicollet bus garage, but it would help to reduce crowding.

    Spending time to figure out how to reduce the delay from strollers, walkers and wheelchairs could really make a big difference in on-time performance.

    1. wayne

      “Spending time to figure out how to reduce the delay from strollers, walkers and wheelchairs could really make a big difference in on-time performance.”

      level boarding, multiple entrances/exits, off-board fare payment … oh wait, that’s basically a train. Or BRT if you actually believe it can work that way, but I imagine there’s probably still some issue with wheelchairs and BRT that require strapping down.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        From some quick googling, it looks like the choice to use securements is up to the individual transit agency (scroll down to securements). So presumably if they had a BRT route with few turns and smooth operation, they might have the choice to just allow wheelchair users on without having to get the driver over to strap the rider in.

        I don’t recall from riding the Red Line if there are wheelchair securements, but I think there are.

  7. Steve H

    I seem to recall reading a while back that the Chicago Transit Authority was going to switch to an all sideways seating configuration on all of their new trains. I think a lot of riders were very much against the switch.

  8. Evan RobertsEvan Roberts

    let me just say that this is a great idea but it works well in foreign countries, so why would we want to do it in America?

  9. Pingback: Using a Construction Project to Predict the Effect of a Road Diet | Streetsblog.net

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Officially, that’s the rule here, too. But folding a stroller, holding baby in one arm and folded stroller in the other (plus a bag or backpack you probably have with you) is a lot less safe and more cumbersome than just wheeling the stroller on.

  10. Karen

    Subway cars in Japan have all side seating. If it isn’t rush hour, everyone gets a seat. If it is rush hour, there’s plenty of room for people to stand. Buses tend to have 2-1 seating.

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