Transportation Alternatives (TA) was recently engaged in two nearly identical cases involving the same theme: Prematurely moving a bus after passengers had just boarded but had not yet reached a seat of “point of securement” (i.e., a horizontal or vertical stanchion). Like at least a dozen similar cases TA President Ned Einstein has served as an expert witness on, for the plaintiff, the defendant was oblivious to the existence of inertial and centrifugal forces as both a policy matter (drivers were never taught about these junior high school phenomena) and an operating matter (the schedules were so tight that drivers typically employed a number of tricks to create otherwise non-existent “recovery” or “layover” time at one or both ends of each run – without which they would have been significantly fatigued and would have placed their passengers, fellow drivers and motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and the public in general at great risk.
In both these cases, the plaintiff’s testified that they board the defendant’s bus, and while struggling to fetch their fare cards out, the driver pulled out of the bus stop. As most high school science students easily recognize, the greatest moment of any object’s acceleration is that moment when it goes from no speed to any speed. This is because force equals mass times acceleration: The speed a vehicle is traveling has nothing whatsoever to do with its force. But the change in its speed, and its mass, have everything to do with it. (Think back about the grainy films of our first space shuttles where, during lift-off, when the rocket was traveling at perhaps one to 10 mph, the skin was practically peeled back off the astronauts faces. An hour later, when the third stage of the rocket was traveling in orbit at perhaps 25,000 mph, the astronauts were shown floating around in the space capsule drinking Tang.) But high school science seems to have not entered the sphere of thinking in U.S. transit agencies: This is hardly the first such case I’ve served on as an expert, and all or most of them settled quietly.
In the case of both of the cases, these major metropolitan are transit agencies have taken their ignorance of science a step further. In these cases, passengers are not even allowed to reach a seat of “point of securement.” Instead, as a policy matter, the bus is permitted to begin pulling out from its stop the moment the passenger crosses over the “white line” – a line positioned for the principal purpose that riders do not stand in front of it while riding, where the centrifugal force of a left turn would likely pitch them down into the stepwell and possibly through the door into the street. (This actually happened in a California case I did about a decade ago. An article about it appears on my website in the section titled “Articles and Publications by Ned Einstein:” Go to transalt.com, click on the link “Articles and Publications by Ned Einstein,” scroll down to a link titled “The Mysterious Force,” and begin reading.) In both cases, the passengers could not instantly pluck their fare cards from a convenient pocket, purse or wallet, and the driver simply drove away while they had not yet even crossed over the white line. Both were naturally knocked completely off their feet. The difference was that one plaintiff suffered only a broken leg, while the other was mutilated.
A number of themes related to these incidents are treated, at some length, in essays on TA’s website (transalt.com): Click on a link titled “Common Accident and Incident Scenarios” in the upper right-hand corner of the Home Page, scroll down a few pages to one of about two dozen orange links at the bottom, and click on:
- Boarding and Alighting
- Careless or Reckless Driving
- Eggshells and other Vulnerable Passengers
- Inertial and Centrifugal Forces and Suspension Systems
- On Board Slips and Falls
- Route and Schedule Design
- Seating and Securement
- Stepwell and Handrail Design
- Training and MESE