Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Thin Blue Line

"Please stand behind the red line."

That's a phrase that almost all transit users in Metro Vancouver can relate to. It's probably the most often-repeated phrase in this city right after "We are all Canucks" (which is a false statement; I'm not one).

However, there's one that not many people have heard of: "Please stand behind the blue line." What's the blue line? Unlike the red line, it's marked on the wall rather than the ground, and is located approximately behind the first row of front-facing priority seats. Whereas passengers must normally stay behind the red line, passengers are supposedly supposed to stand behind the blue line when a wheelchair bay is occupied.

I'm a wheelchair user and even I wasn't aware of this until recently, when drivers on my buses started to enforce this rule. And this has caused quite a raucous for those who either didn't know the rule or refuse to follow it.

When the bus is crowded, this rule can cause a lot of frustration for those waiting at the stops because the driver would refuse to let people on after a certain point, saying "the bus is full." As you can guess, a lot of people get angry. One of them even tried to throw her bag of groceries at the windshield. (This city is nothing if not a little nuts.) Other reactions include people pointing out the bus number and indicating that they'll remember it and report it.

The people who do get on are often told to move back behind the blue line. A lot of them are confused but usually relent after the driver (or other passengers at the front) point out the blue line. But once in a while, someone decides that the rule applies to everyone except for him.

One day, on the 99 B-Line, the driver decided to enforce the "blue line" rule. He made everyone board via the back doors to make it easier. One guy was angry that the front doors weren't opened, and physically pushed down or aside other passengers to stand at the front.

The driver asked him to stay back but he said, "I have a right to stand here. There's lots of space." The driver informed him that according to regulations, passengers must stand behind the blue line when the wheelchair bay was occupied (it's apparently part of the Safety Code of Canada). The guy refused to even look at the blue line being pointed out. Other passengers at the front seats pointed it out and told him to get back.

Normally there wouldn't be any other people pointing it out but he pissed off a lot of people (such as the people he pushed down earlier). The driver refused to move the bus until he either moved back or got off the bus. The guy eventually did relent, but it was tense there for a moment.

So there I was, the guy in the wheelchair and the cause of the conflict is my mere existence. I hate being caught in these awkward conflicts but once they happen, they're beyond my control. Personally, I don't give a damn if you're ahead of the blue line, as long as people move aside when I get on or off. But if the driver needs/wants to enforce a rule, it's not really in my place to suggest otherwise.

Now this begs the question: why isn't the "blue line" rule made clearer? Let's not look at how reasonable or unreasonable the rule is for a moment, and look at how the rule is so obscure that even I didn't know much about it.

The blue line in question is on the wall, and not on the floor. Everyone knows about the red line because it's on the floor, but when you point out a blue line and people look at the floor, they see nothing. And on the wall, it's a thin dotted line. For the unobservant, you can easily miss it and you can't really blame them for that.

And because of people not knowing about this rule, a lot of conflict and anger arises from this. It's just a matter of time until some well-meaning driver trying to enforce this rule gets hurt as a result of an unruly passenger such as the one on my 99 B-Line ride.

I find that usually when the rules are made clear, passengers tend to obey it without question. But this "blue line" rule definitely causes a stir every time it's enforced, and needs to be made much clearer to reduce conflict in the future. We already have a bus driver assault problem in Metro Vancouver; let's not make it worse.


  1. I find the blue line rule to be quite pointless (which is probably why it's not enforced nor made clear much). The red line makes sure the driver has an unobstructed view of the road and vehicles around him. What does the blue line do? The area forward of the blue line is quite a large area and it's a waste to not let passengers stand there. When the bus is packed, it seems stupid to have such a large unused portion of space.

    And I'm a Canuck, and I have my name on a custom jersey to prove it.

  2. Booooo Canucks! :P But all jabbing aside...

    I completely agree. I don't find it much of a benefit, from a wheelchair user's perspective. Whether it's devoid of standees at the front or not, it doesn't make much of a difference. The only difference-maker would be if a wheelchair user had to get ON the bus. Then emptying the front would make sense since some of us have to make a 180-degree turn in that area to get into position. Getting off... not so much since it's a straight-on exit.

    LIMITING people at the front might be an idea, but again, I wonder how much difference it makes. In my situations, normally if you're getting off and the bus is packed, most people tend to make room for you somehow anyway.

    In short, the "blue line rule" is useful for people getting ON, but it doesn't make much of a difference for people getting OFF. And since the rule kicks in only if someone's already in the wheelchair bay, it does seem a bit pointless.