Metrobus Drivers Get A Sturdier, Safer Ride

Metrobus operator Lance Campbell says the seats Metro plans to install are more comfortable and provide greater back support for drivers.
Metrobus operator Lance Campbell says the seats Metro plans to install are more comfortable and provide greater back support for drivers. (By Lena H. Sun -- The Washington Post)
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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Better ergonomics and safety measures are in store for Metrobus drivers, who operate the region's largest bus fleet. Metro will install seats with more back support and better seat belts as new buses replace older ones in the fleet of more than 1,500 buses, officials said yesterday.

The new seats, made by Recaro, have a snugger fit for operators, who average 4 1/2 to 5 hours at a time behind the wheel. They also come with a three-point seat belt that includes a shoulder strap, much like seat belts in most cars. The bus industry standard is a two-point system, essentially a lap belt.

"There is a difference," said operator Lance Campbell, 49, who has been driving a bus for 22 years and tested one of the new seats this spring. "There is a lot more support, and you're not going to be bouncing around.

"I can drive this bus all day long," he quipped.

The seats and belts will be installed on Metro's 203 newest electric hybrid buses, with the first 50 arriving this fall.

The belts, which are bright orange, are easily visible to other drivers and Metrobus passengers and are part of the agency's efforts to ensure that drivers wear their seat belts.

"It is a concern for us," said Phil Wallace, who oversees Metrobus maintenance. "Drivers in the past have said they have not worn their seat belts because [the belts] are uncomfortable," he said. Operators say the two-point belts tighten up too much. The new belts are more comfortable because they "have automatic retractors that don't cinch up" and provide better safety, Wallace said.

The new seats and seat belts also are aimed at reducing back injuries and worker compensation claims. "Only a refuse truck has a harsher duty cycle than a transit bus," Wallace said. "All that bus sees all day long is stop and go, accelerate and brake, and that's a lot of wear and tear on equipment and the person behind the wheel."

The new seats and belts are designed to be more comfortable for bus operators of all sizes. The old belts are too short for a big person, said Martin Van Buren, a 5-foot 11-inch bus operator who calls himself "in the middle" of the spectrum. "If an operator is cramped up in there and he goes to make a move and he can't make it, that makes that a safety hazard."

The improved seat with shoulder belt adds $200 to the $1,500 cost of a standard bus operator seat, or about $40,600 for the new buses. The cost of a new hybrid electric bus, including the new seat and belt, is $531,000 to $540,000.

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