Muni permanently locks up front facing seats, fearing lawsuits

A Muni seat with its bottom half snapped upright.
Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Regular Muni riders have no doubt seen the wheelchair-accessible seats, located just in front of Muni's middle door, snapped up in the upright position. A seat not for sitting, leading confused riders to wonder: why has Muni left these seats permanently upright?

The answer is actually pretty simple, if you follow the documents. Muni fears a lawsuit, and maybe with good reason. A warning from one manufacturer of Muni buses, New Flyer, has transit circles spooked.

The warning didn't mention any lawsuits, but CalTIP, who insurers transit agencies across California (but not Muni), warned its members of potential lawsuits stemming from the forward facing seats:

In the summer of 2012, a CalTIP member experienced an incident where a passenger was thrown out of a first row front-facing flip-up seat (right side aisle seat) when the operator applied the brakes hard to avoid a collision with another vehicle. Although the passenger indicated at the time he was OK, he eventually filed an injury claim. The case closed with a total cost of approximately four times the average CalTIP loss rate.

New Flyer warned that three similar accidents occurred, though it did not mention lawsuits related to those incidents. In response, California transit agencies were recommended by  CalTIP, to disable the seats -- and fast. 

Muni isn't a member of CalTIP, but it followed suit all the same. Muni wrote last month that setting the seats upright is all about the safety:

You've probably noticed that on some of our buses, the first row of forward-facing seats are secured in their flipped-up position, with decals explaining they have been taken out of service for safety reasons.  These seats are not broken. They have been removed from use for your safety.

So when will the seats be fixed? They won't, Muni said. The seating issue will end when the fleet is replaced in four to five years. Until then, enjoy the extra standing room. Or don't.

Update 5/29: Paul Rose, a spokesperson for Muni, offered in an email last night, somewhat cryptically: "The solution will be on place in buses by June 16th. New buses are not affected."

upright muni seats