Overweight Americans throwing off safety of city buses
Overweight Americans throwing off safety of city buses By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY
It's official: The federal government says more overweight Americans are squeezing onto buses, and it may have to rewrite bus safety rules because of it.
The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) proposes raising the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 150 pounds to 175 pounds, which could mean that across the country, fewer people will be allowed on a city transit bus.
The transit authority, which regulates how much weight a bus can carry, also proposes adding an additional quarter of a square foot of floor space per passenger. The changes are being sought "to acknowledge the expanding girth of the average passenger," the agency says.
"This change is really just a bow to reality," says Joseph Schwieterman, who studies bus ridership as director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago. "With no small number of bus passengers tipping the scale at 200 pounds or more, this is much more realistic."
Current federal guidelines on average passenger weight are based on surveys in 1960-62 of what Americans weighed then. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, the average weight is 194.7 pounds for men 20 and older and 164.7 pounds for women that age range. "FTA believes that 175 pounds is an appropriate average weight to assume for testing buses," the agency says.
Even with the changes, bus riders would be "lighter" than other passengers — at least by federal standards. The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees airline travel, gauges average passenger weight at 190 pounds in the summer and 195 pounds in the winter. The Coast Guard's assumed average weight is 185 pounds for boats and ferries.
The proposed change comes as more people are turning to public transportation to avoid skyrocketing fuel prices. It was published in the Federal Register last week, just as an American Public Transportation Association study predicted an additional 670 million passenger trips per year on transit systems if gas prices reach an average $4 a gallon nationally. At $5 a gallon, the association predicts 1.5 billion more passenger trips.
William Millar, the transportation association's president, says the recession left the nation's transit systems unprepared for that kind of increase. Without additional investment, "people will be stranded on the street corner or in the stations," he says.
It's too soon to know what effect the proposed weight changes could have for riders — whether reducing the number of passengers per bus or changing bus design.
Patrick Scully, chief commercial officer for Oriskany, N.Y.-based Daimler Buses North America, one of the nation's leading suppliers of transit buses, says the company's engineers are reviewing the change to see how it could possibly alter bus designs.