Bus Interior Design: How to Select the Best Doors, Seats, and Lighting

An interior of a Melbourne, Australia tram. All trams operate on the honor system; if you need to buy a ticket, visit a vendor or the full size ticket vending machine in the back of the vehicle. Christopher MacKechnie

Bus Interior Design: How to Select the Best Doors, Seats, Lighting, and Other Amenities For Improved Customer and Transit Agency Satisfaction

Now that you have selected your bus size, propulsion method, and whether you desire a high or low floor vehicle, it is time to design the interior of your coach.  Due to a combination of cost, threat of vandalism, and ease of maintenance most transit agencies outfit their buses similarly.

  Some of the considerations include:

Number of Doors - Most transit agencies purchase regular sized forty-foot coaches with two doors, one in front of the front axle and a one that is normally just in front of the rear axle.  Sixty-foot buses have at least one additional door in the rear section and sometimes two.  Buses operating along routes that are expected to have low passenger turnover sometimes only have one bus, with the space occupied by the other door being used for additional seats.  Buses with only one door are typically useful only on express or rural routes.  Some buses operating lines with extremely high passenger turnover may have more than two doors, particularly if there is no on-board fare collection.

Door Size - Door size makes a big difference in the amount of time a bus spends at a stop.  To reduce fare evasion, almost invariably the front door of a bus is only wide enough to accept one person at a time.

  Sometimes rear doors are extra wide, allowing for two people to alight simultaneously. 

Seats - Seats are the most important consideration when designing a bus interior.  To maintain good driver health, an ergonomically correct seat for the coach operator is a must.  Since any dollars saved on installing a cheap seat could cost many more down the line if the cheap seat increases the number of employees out on workers compensation, any extra dollars spent on a better driver seat are dollars well-spent.

As for the passenger seats, there are several considerations one must consider.  For the now ubiquitous low-floor bus, maximizing the number of seats generally results in a total a couple less than the length of a bus (for example, a 40' low-floor bus usually has thirty-eight seats, while a 60' low-floor bus often has fifty-seven seats).  This arrangement results in a two-by-two forward-facing seat setup throughout most of the vehicle with inward-facing seats filling in the space around the two axles as necessary.  For transit systems that routinely have a high number of standees, one of the forward-facing seats in each row between the two doors can be removed to increase standee space.  In extreme cases all the seats can be inward-facing, something that is seen on rapid transit systems like the New York Subway but rarely on buses.

Due to vandalism, unfortunately most formerly cushioned seats in buses have been replaced with hard plastic, sometimes with a thin and easy to replace band of felt attached on top.  Transit agencies should avoid using seats that do not allow the user to "sink in", as non-indented bench seats will result in non-suspecting passengers sliding around in emergency braking situations.


For those unable to sit, straps attached to the overhead railing should be provided as not everyone is tall enough to be able to comfortably reach the railing.

Windows and Ventilation - There has been a trend in the past few years to take delivery of buses with non-operating windows, perhaps in an effort to prevent people from sticking things out the window.  I suggest transit agencies reconsider, as a cool breeze does wonders in making a journey more comfortable and as a prevention against motion-sickness.  In addition, non-operating windows make a bus unusable in the summer when the air-conditioning fails, while windows that open may (barely) make a trip tolerable.


Interior lighting is always a battle involving safety and security.  Too much interior lighting at night causes windshield glare that could result in an accident if it prevents the driver from seeing a dark obstacle.

  Too little interior lighting could make passengers feel unsafe and prevent on-board cameras from working correctly.  Long-standing practice of normally dimming the first couple of lights on each side of the bus is gradually being replaced by automatic dimming of all bus lights, a development allowed by the substitution of fluorescent lighting with LED lighting.  Some agencies have installed colored shields to reduce glare, the best choice of color (red, blue, yellow, green) depends on the color spectrum of the light being shielded.


Wifi installation is in some ways the current "thing" to do in transit (this article was written in June 2015).  Wifi installation contradicts safety messages warning riders not to tempt theft by waving around their smart phones, and is probably only useful in circumstances where almost all riders are seated (so that they have enough room to use their device) and have a long enough ride ahead of them that they have enough time to figure out how to connect to the network.  In other words, wifi installation would seem to only be beneficial on long commuter-oriented routes.

Advances in Interior Design

In Europe, unlike the United States, their is robust competition for the transit agency capital dollar.  This competition has resulted in innovations not yet seen in the United States, including lights that tell you which seats are free and which seats are occupied and operate in a similar manner to lights found in some parking garages.  Different "funky" lighting schemes are being explored, and some buses feature outlets to allow you to charge your electronic devices.  Non-fixed seating configurations allow for dynamic capacity changes, with more seats available at off-peak times and more standing room available during peak-periods. 

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Your Citation
MacKechnie, Christopher. "Bus Interior Design: How to Select the Best Doors, Seats, and Lighting." ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2016, thoughtco.com/bus-interior-design-2798855. MacKechnie, Christopher. (2016, August 6). Bus Interior Design: How to Select the Best Doors, Seats, and Lighting. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bus-interior-design-2798855 MacKechnie, Christopher. "Bus Interior Design: How to Select the Best Doors, Seats, and Lighting." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bus-interior-design-2798855 (accessed September 23, 2017).