From the Editors

METRO editors blog about public transit issues, news and events. Join the conversation with your comments.

Back to the list

March 23, 2011

FTA bus test adjustment touches on weighty health problem

by Nicole Schlosser

Early last week, the FTA proposed, for more accuracy in bus safety regulations testing, an adjustment to the average passenger weight it uses, from 150 lbs. to 175 lbs., and increased the average occupied floor space from 1.5 to 1.75 square feet. Many mainstream media outlets picked up the story this week, and it seems to have hit a nerve.

In addition to the fact that the decision implies the average American has, in the less-than-delicate observations of some writers, “gotten fatter,” the current regulations were determined in 1960, half a century ago. Far be it for me to say but, yeah, seems like it would be time for an update.

Still, as Kyla King at pointed out, data from the National Institutes of Health show Americans are “getting larger, with 64 percent of U.S. adults being overweight, one-third being obese. And, 15 percent of children ages six to 19 being overweight, triple the proportion in 1980.”
The FTA isn’t the only government agency ratcheting up its numbers to take on the heftier traveler. The Federal Aviation Administration now puts the average American’s weight at 190 lbs., in summer, and 195 lbs. in winter. Jennifer Kalczuk, the spokeswoman for The Rapid, Grand Rapids, Mich.’s public transit system, makes an interesting point in the same mLive story about why bus transit testing weights are still lower than other forms of transportation, such as air travel: The proven link between public transit use and better health.

The eventual implication of the adjusted weight would be that manufacturers would need to review the current advertised capacities, make necessary changes to design, create and accommodate larger seats and, as the article notes, fewer people would be allowed on board.

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority spokeswoman Mary McCahon told that, instead of buying new, expensive buses, the system will likely opt to reduce the number of riders. Depending on the bus, that could mean five to 10 fewer riders per vehicle, McCahon added. This information sparked a quote from a rider (I think: the story doesn’t specify) about discrimination against overweight people, which, apparently, is nearly two-thirds of us.

Another interviewed rider took the news personally, saying to that the proposal assumes “most Americans are overweight, so in a way that can be offensive to me.” However, in this story, which pulls no punches in its headline, Yahoo contributor Wes Laurie countered, “The FTA is actually on the side of bigger people, unlike what has seemingly happened with airlines, in being willing to adjust the vehicles for them at no extra cost.”

These stories also made me think about one of the major factors responsible for Americans packing on the pounds: Leading a sedentary lifestyle. Many of us sit behind a desk, or steering wheel, for the majority or our long workdays. It can be difficult to fit in exercise, or even to take a break for a walk or to stretch. Some workplaces are trying to help remedy that by encouraging more breaks and providing incentives on healthcare plans. Is your agency or company doing something similar?

And, of course, with gas prices rising and ridership jumping again, the FTA’s adjustment could add to transit’s difficulty in meeting demand. Many of you are or have been out on the road, driving passengers every day. Has the haul gotten heavier? Has it impacted your job or the jobs of your drivers? What kind of repercussions will this have for your company or agency?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Would growing ridership hurt or hinder transit agencies?" here.

Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor

Write a letter to the editor digg it stumble upon newsvine

  • Richard Gunn[ March 24th, 2011 @ 5:09am ]

    People appear to be conditioned to believe that the average weight increase comes from gaining excess pounds. This is only part of the answer. With advances in medines, transportation and coomunication systems most people have a healthier life style. The transit buses that I ride have very few significantly over weight teenagers. The teenagers are noticeably taller and have back packs. The increase in body height leads to a higher average body weight. The back packs increase the standee floor space from 1.5 to 3.0 squate feet. If the FTA is considering revising the average passenger weight, it also should revise the physical dimensions for the 95th percentile male and 5th percentile female.

  • Jeff Brown[ March 28th, 2011 @ 8:09am ]

    I agree with Richard Gunn; it is a commonly accepted fact that over the generations people get taller, even to the point where history classes teach that people in Revolutionary times were significantly shorter than people today. I'd also like to point out that height has a significant impact on a vehicle's seating capacity. Next time you notice people taking up two seats, take a mental tally; is it because they're too fat, or too tall? People who are too tall for the legroom in their seats tend to sit sideways or spread their knees into the aisle.


Receive the latest Metro E-Newsletters in your inbox!

Join the Metro E-Newsletters and receive the latest news in your e-mail inbox once a week. SIGN UP NOW!

View the latest eNews
Express Tuesday | Express Thursday | University Transit

Author Bio

Janna Starcic

Executive Editor

Alex Roman

Managing Editor

White Papers

Factors in Transit Bus Ramp Slope and Wheelchair-Seated Passenger Safety Nearly 3 million U.S. adults are wheelchair or scooter users1, and as the population ages this number is expected to rise. Many wheelchair users rely upon public transportation to access work, medical care, school and social activities.

Mass Transit Capital Planning An overview of the world-class best practices for assessing, prioritizing, and funding capital projects to optimize resources and align with the organization’s most critical immediate and long-term goals.

The Benefits of Door-to-Door Service in ADA Complementary Paratransit Many U.S. transit agencies continue to struggle with the quality of ADA service, the costs, and the difficulties encountered in contracting the service, which is the method of choice for a significant majority of agencies. One of the most basic policy decisions an agency must make involves whether to provide door-to-door, or only curb-to-curb service.

More white papers


The full contents of Metro Magazine on your computer! The digital edition is an exact replica of the print magazine with enhanced search, multimedia and hyperlink features. View the current issue