Kevin Harrison 
Member since Aug 28, 2009


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Re: “AC Transit Chief Is Out

John Seal said:
"Incidentally, has anonymous experienced this phenomenon on BART, too? I haven't."

Of course it happens on BART. Even so, on BART cars, only a very small percentage of seats face each other; only four at each end of the car. I don't know the exact number of seats on a BART car, but at least 80% are not face-to-face. But surely you have noticed that as a car fills up, the very last seats taken are the four backward ones face-to-face with already-filled forward seats. I've ridden BART for decades and that has always been the case. During rush hour, it is so crowded in the car that every seat inevitably gets taken, but those are surely the least popular. On Van Hools, however, I've been on extremely crowded buses, including 51s, and some of the face-to-face seats have indeed gone unused despite standing-room only in the aisles. Keep your eyes peeled -- you'll notice this too.

John Seal said:
"Anonymous apparently has some personal issues with looking at strangers"

I wasn't describing me, I was describing a general state of affairs with how people position their bodies on Van Hools. I'm not whining about a personal gripe, I'm making an observation about ergonomics and traffic patterns.

It's well-known that people don't like to be face-to-face with strangers in close quarters. Next time you ride a crowded elevator, look around and see how everybody turns to face each other and smile. NOT! Left to their own devices, people in a crowded elevator will almost always all face forward, to avoid the uncomfortable eye-contact with the person adjacent to them. The same is true in most tightly packed crowd situations.

John Seal said:
"Then again, I am a UK citizen, and am presumably immune to that oh so special 'American psychology' that requires all seats on public transportation face forward."

And yes, despite your mockery, I have noticed that this is a particularly American trait. I've ridden buses all around the world, and in many places this issue is not a problem -- people don't mind being right up against or facing their fellow riders. This probably has to do with most countries having a more close-knit social cohesion -- more of a "hive mentality" if you will -- than in America, where strangers are truly strangers and there is more distrust and/or emotional distance.

I contend that the European bus designers didn't take this subtle but significant psychological difference in mind when designing the layout of the Van Hool, leading to a bus that is unpleasant for anti-social Americans to ride.

Of course, I agree with you and all the other commenters as well about the other reasons why Van Hools are unpleasant: I was just adding an additional reason that no one seems to have yet mentioned.

Posted by Anonymous on 10/23/2009 at 9:00 AM

Re: “AC Transit Chief Is Out

There has always been one HUGE problem with the Van Hool design that so far I have never seen discussed in public, even though it is the one issue which (subconsciously) bothers most riders:

The bus seats are arranged face-to-face, so that strangers are compelled to sit touching knees and awkwardly staring at each other from a very short distance away. Perhaps something about European culture makes this set-up acceptable, but in America it is a disaster. In most of the Van Hool normal-size buses, there are 20 built-in seats -- but 16 of those are arranged such that they are directly facing another seat (i.e. some are pointing backwards). If you've ever waited in line with a group of people and boarded an empty Van Hool, you know what happens: The first four people immediately make a bee-line for those unique four seats that DON'T face another seat. The the next eight people take the remaining forward-facing seats that face a backward-facing seat...and that's it. The remaining 8 seats generally go unused, even if the bus becomes extremely crowded, because no one wants to ride backwards while looking directly into the face of someone they don't know. The end result is that in these huge buses that should contain 30, 40 or 50 usable built-in seats, instead only 12 end up getting used. And everybody else has to stand.

Now, of course sometimes people do use the face-to-face backward seats, but it's always an uncomfortable experience. And sometimes people use the fold-down seats and cross their fingers that a wheelchair user doesn't board. But for the most part -- and I've seen this a million times -- there will 15 people standing in the aisle who find it more comfortable and private to stand up than use the awful seats.

The reason no one wants to talk about this issue is that they're embarrassed to admit the problem, because it makes it look like they're misanthropic, or anti-social, or lack a sense of community, or whatever. It's just shameful in the Bay Area to admit that you just don't want to sit and be face-to-face with your fellow man.

That's why most American-made buses generally avoid this problem by having most or all of the seats face forward, or sideways toward the aisle -- because American designers understand American psychology. Belgian designers apparently don't.

So what we get stuck with is a giant bus with very few usable seats, only four of which are guaranteed to be discomfort-free.

All of this is necessitated by the Van Hool's low-floor design, because the seat layout has to work around the presence of the wheel wells and engine and so forth. The "solution" was to have the seats surround the wheel wells, leading to the face-to-face problem described above.

I noticed this disastrous problem within three minutes of riding a Van Hool the very first time, and I didn't need to take 30 junkets to Europe to figure it out -- or not figure it out, in the case of the AC Transit criminals-in-chief. They were too busy having a high old time on their free vacations to notice they were buying the worst-designed buses on Earth.

Fernandez needed to go. And the rest of them need to go too. The proposed service cuts are unconscionable, and will completely doom the agency. In fact, even the threat of the cuts is disastrous, because people now realize they can't rely on the buses for their schedules any more, as they may disappear or be re-routed or have their frequency decreased to such a degree that they are rendered useless. And so people will (and already have, in fact) start making other plans -- usually involving private vehicles.

The City of Berkeley needs to pull out of its agreement with the AC Transit District, keep all of our tax money ourselves, and build our own better bus service at 30% of the cost of the bloated and corrupt AC Transit. I don't care about this plan being a violation of some 50-year-old contract Berkeley signed with the District. Let AC Transit sue; by the time the case goes to court four years from now, AC Transit will be bankrupt anyway and Berkeley will have a model thriving municipal bus system.

C'mon Berkeley, you can do it! A fleet of small electric buses or vans making frequent runs on well-designed routes to the inaccessible parts of town could completely change our driving habits and get thousands of people out of their cars. Isn't that the city's goal anyway? AC Transit's plan, of cutting or ruining all the "feeder lines" (the lesser-used routes to the hills and north Berkeley) will only cause thousands of current users to have to resort to cars -- completely negating and reversing any "greening" attempts of the Berkeley city government.

We need a citizen's revolution over this public transit crisis. Berkeley will never be a "green" city until we get a decent bus system. And AC Transit sure as hell isn't the agency that's going to provide it.

Posted by Anonymous on 10/21/2009 at 10:27 PM

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