RTD bus door closes on bike helmet and cracks it

Posted at 10:56 PM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 00:56:39-04

A Denver man wants to warn others after he says he an RTD bus door crushed his bicycle helmet and could have caused serious injury.

Surveillance video of the incident obtained by Denver7 has raised questions about bus door safety.

"You can see the damage on here. The helmet is cracked all the way around, and it took a chunk out of it," said Steve Garcia, a Denver resident who was taking the Flatiron Flyer from Denver to Boulder last month. "It does take a lot of force to do that."

RTD surveillance video from Union Station shows Garcia (in a white t-shirt) boarding a bus while holding his helmet in front of him in his hand.

Garcia said when the bus driver accidentally closed the pneumatic doors, he stepped back, but not far enough; his bike helmet was caught between the doors for several seconds until the bus driver realized it and opened the doors. 

The video shows the helmet then falling to the ground.

Garcia said he was surprised the doors didn't have obstacle detection or sensing technology that would have kept them from crushing his helmet.

"I thought they would open quickly like an elevator door or the trains at the airport, but nothing like that," said Garcia.

A receipt shows RTD reiumbursed him for the damaged helmet, but Garcia said the helmet isn't what worried him.

"My concern is if it had been something other than a helmet, what would have happened?" asked Garcia. "If it had been an infant or a child or an elderly person or a disabled person? It could much more serious, even fatal."

Scott Reed, an RTD spokesman said the bus doors meet all safety requirements and this is the first complaint.

"Fortunately, it appears to be a very isolated incident," said Reed. "There are millions of this type of bus door in operation in the world. RTD has thousands of them over the past several years that have been in operation."

However, there are several types of door sensors available that prevent doors from closing on passengers.

"There are some transit authorities that mandate sensing edges for their buses and some that do not," said Frank Golemis, director of engineering at Vapor Bus International, which makes sensor systems for bus doors. "Some authorities require them only on rear doors, but some require them on front doors as well."

While RTD uses "safety sensitive closure equipment" on the rear passenger door of two-door buses, Reed stated in an email that it is not required on front passenger doors, which rely on bus drivers paying attention.

"The bus operator has full control of the door, and they can stop it instantly," said Reed. "Our bus operators are very very careful. They’re safe. And passenger safety is our top concern." 

But what happened to Garcia's helmet has raised some red flags.

"I am very surprised that there are no sensors," said Kevin Williams, the legal program director for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. "I can say that for anyone with a mobility impairment who does not use the wheelchair lift, the closing of doors could be a serious problem."

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which oversees bus safety, does not have any regulations related to the operation of doors on transit buses.

However, the agency is working to strengthen its safety oversight with a new regulatory framework.  

"Once the new rules become final and effective, the operation of doors on transit buses may be a safety issue FTA will look into in the future," a spokesperson wrote in a statement to Denver7's Jaclyn Allen.

Meanwhile, last year the FTA issued a proposed rule to test the safety of new transit buses that would establish minimum performance standards. The FTA expects to issue the final rule later this year."

Until then, Garcia said he just wants to warn others that for him, the most dangerous part of riding the bus was simply stepping on.

"How many small incidents would it take for something to be done about it?" Garcia asked.