Rules over Safety

Last year, MUNI removed a few seats from the front of its standard electric buses by permanently locking them upright. They did this due to safety reasons: “these seats do not have a barrier in front of them to protect a person from falling in the event of a sudden stop or collision.” (link)

It’s easy to read through the lines to glean that the bus manafacturers and likely the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency have done this to protect themselves from litigation in the case of an accident, and not in the true spirit of making the bus safer. The bus makers have said: “Here’s the way you should use our buses. If you color outside these lines, it’s on you.”

What happens in reality? For those who have an even passing knowledge of SF transit knows that the buses get incredibly crowded — if there’s a place to stand where a seat isn’t, someone will stand there. Now, instead of someone sitting on a seat where they might be thrown forward, that person is now standing in a spot where they may be thrown forward, and due to centers-of-gravity and torque and all those other fun Newtonian physics concepts, it is more dangerous. It is a common sight to see someone half-sitting, half-leaning on the raised seat, poking at their phone. A sudden stop would send this person over top a row of sitting people versus hitting the single person in front of them.

This is a good example of a policy enacted by fear of litigation over safety but still publicized as being done “for your safety.”