Guest Post: Community Transit Double Tall Buses After One Year

This is a guest post from regular contributor Ron Swaren. Anyone who wishes to submit a guest post is welcome to contact the moderators and we will be happy to assist you.

704px-Community_Transit_Enviro_500.pngPhotograph by Takeshita kenji, courtesy of Wikipedia. Released under the GNU Free Documentation License (CC-BY-3.0). Click on picture for a larger image.

Community Transit
of Snohomish County, Wahington (north of Seattle) inaugurated its fleet of 23 “Double-Tall” express buses in March, 2011. The passenger capacity is equivalent to articulated buses (77 seated), but they perform much better in slippery conditions, and can shift weight in the rear axle. The length of 42 feet takes up less road space and was requested by the City of Seattle. Martin Mungia, information director for Community Transit, stated that while the number of passengers is typically about 40, a couple times a week they fill up to 100-110 riders.

There are two main routes using the double-talls (they are switched to other routes during the day): the 402 to Lynnwood , and the 405 to Edmonds Park and Ride. Technical data on the double-talls is available at this page.

They make one or two stops at Park and Ride lots in the suburban communities, take I-5 into Seattle, and make 5-7 stops downtown. Mr. Mungia also pointed out that the height of the vehicles –approx. 14 feet–provides desirable advertising space that is more visible, thus bringing in more revenue. Community Transit may purchase more vehicles in the future if economic conditions become more favorable. The cost of $850,000 per vehicle was higher than normal buses, but they think these will prove to be good investments over time.

The initial investment of $23 million was 88 percent covered by grants, substantially from WDOT “Regional Mobility Program” and by federal stimulus money. Alexander Dennis Co. based in Scotland, opened an assembly plant in Southern California where final assembly was accomplished, thus qualifying the buses under “Buy America” requirements. Similar vehicles are also being used in Victoria and Kelowna, BC.

The inaugural day of the new routes was covered in this entry at Community Transit’s blog.

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18 responses to “Guest Post: Community Transit Double Tall Buses After One Year”

  1. We’ve had these buses here in Victoria BC for about 10 years now – they’re really nice to ride in upstairs because of the views and the quiet ride with the engine downstairs. The stairs are a little tough when the bus is in motion, but you learn to time your descent for when the bus is at a red light.

    This video gives a nice feel of what it’s like to ride:

  2. Double decker buses do seem to be a reasonable way to add capacity without adding the headaches that the old “artics” presented. Just have to keep an eye on overhead clearance, not just overpasses and power lines, but also street trees and signage… which is simple as long as the buses stay on their routes…

  3. How high are the electrical lines for Max & streetcar? The problems could be shocking! :)

    Seriously, though, the top deck could be really nice for longer and express routes. Going short distances, the loading & unloading times could be troublesome.

  4. Dwain, In Everett the buses only make a couple of stops picking up their load of passengers. Then express into Seattle. Then 5-7 stops. I think the express feature offsets slow loading pretty well.

    I think the two level buses, which are used extensively in Europe for touring, would work well in Oregon instead of expanding the rail network as ODOT is considering. They could go to a lot more places, such as to Eastern Oregon and Coastal destinations, letting more people leave their cars at home.

  5. It’s a no brainier, adding capacity without adding equipment.
    Might take a little more time loading/unloading but proper scheduling (which is rare at Trimet) can easily solve that problem.

    We’ll never see this in Portland.

  6. The double-talls are 14′ tall (not quite twice a standard bus, but enough to put in a second level of seating, though NBA players will have to duck), which is about the same height as your average semi–any road which can handle a tractor-trailer can handle one of these.

    One thing I notice is a bike rack on the front–one would think with the added capacity there could be room for bikes on board, at least on the lower level. (Many of the double-decker busses in Hong Kong have the stairwell right behind the driver, and opposite this are luggage racks; lower-level seating is mostly located behind the stairwell and the rear door).

  7. These are a great idea and likely less a maintenance problem than the articulated. And they could be a candidate for rapid bus transit. China has a strong domestic bus industry, with prices 1/2 to 1/3 Western prices (at current exchange rates..). They also have hybrid and fuel cell capability.

    Engineer Scotty, good point on the bike racks. How could more outside capacity be added? There are times where Portland buses have to pass bike riders when the 2 positions are filled.

  8. I’m thinking the bike rack on front of the bus can hold four and be close to the same size. Two of the bikes would have to be turned facing the opposite way. It might take a bit larger rack, but probably could be done. Also if the bus makes fewer stops, and stops for longer the problem of getting a bike from a harder to reach storage would go away. There has to be some solutions; let’s think about it. Perhaps bikes could be slid into a compartment under the floor of the bus from the outside, and strapped in? Just a thought.

    Some other ideas: Really strong plexiglass for the front window and heavy duty body framing in that area,too. A couple of tables in the upper level. A turnstile and card reader at the back door, for boarding from that end. Or if the bus is just limited to express routes, monthly passes with magnetic sku’s, for most riders. I would think that an express route with consistent drivers who know the customers would not leave for a lot of fare jumpers. Especially if the driver sold the passes to the customers. I’m sure there are a number of possibilities.

  9. Snazzy! I can see these working well at least on express routes. I’m assuming they’ve been engineered so as to not be overly top-heavy?

  10. “I’m assuming they’ve been engineered so as to not be overly top-heavy?”

    From the stats page, linked in the article:

    “Weight distribution: 70 percent of weight is within 4 feet of the ground, making the buses very stable”

  11. Ron Swaren: other than the Portland-Salem-Eugene string of cities, and Medfore, most of Oregon is truly low-population, too low for train service, so such buses would be good for the rest of Oregon. And train service to Medford would be very expensive to implement, and probably not worth it.

    Such buses would be no substitute for train service from Eugene to Portland, though.

    I am not aware of any ODOT proposals to expand passenger train service outside the Eugene-Portland corridor, so I am curious as to why you suggest that such buses could be an alternative to ODOT’s “expanding the rail network” proposals. Is there a proposal I have not heard about?

  12. “so I am curious as to why you suggest that such buses could be an alternative to ODOT’s “expanding the rail network” proposals. Is there a proposal I have not heard about?”

    Yes there is:

    I think it would be nice to take a transit vehicle from Portland or Roseburg, etc. to some place like Century Drive (so. of Bend) or the Wallowa Mtns. or to Florence, for example. Or someone might want to get from Coos Bay or Eugene to Klamath Falls or La Pine and the Metolius. Or maybe, in the winter from Salem to Anthony Lakes. I was thinking some buses with enough capacity to carry people and their gear would allow them to leave the car at home and go skiing or bike camping. They could travel the main highways and let the folks figure out how to get to the exact spot on their own. Or, maybe in the winter, actually go to the resort.

    This will never happen with trains. But could be done right away with buses, such as the two level tour buses they already use in Europe, some of which have lots of storage space. ODOT is looking at spending, for now, upwards of two billion on the train tracks. Bear in mind that High speed rail in CA is already projected at $91 billion. The bus service I am thinking would require very little subsidy, and the fares could be reasonable.

    Another thought is overnight buses with sleeping compartments on long distance routes. Portland to Boise, for example. I doubt that Greyhound will do this.

  13. The length of 42 feet takes up less road space and was requested by the City of Seattle.

    Funny how the City of Seattle can tell Snohomish County what buses to buy…but Seattle didn’t bother telling King County (as in, the county that Seattle is in) to stop running it’s several hundred articulated buses…?

    That said, the double deck buses are quite unique and popular with riders. In other words, something TriMet would never, ever in a million years consider – because it’s a BUS. But when it comes to MAX, there’s a whole website about the Type 5 cars and how TriMet is addressing rider complaints. And some claim the “bus versus rail debate” is made up…yet TriMet has it right there on its website. I don’t see any website that shows that TriMet is addressing the rider complaints about bus service, or that rider concerns were addressed with the purchase of the 3000 series buses currently undergoing their “dirt and dust collection as they are parked for a long period of time test” at Powell Garage.

  14. – this results in a 404 error – very detailed .PDF on all of TriMet’s RAIL (but not bus) vehicles – another fine MAX page – all about TriMet’s Type 4 vehicles – MAX vs. WES – all about the Type 5 cars

    So…we have TWO pages about buses – one that doesn’t even work.

    And a bunch of pages about MAX. And we even have more on WES:

    However, when I use the search term “Gillig Phantom” I get exactly one hit (a resolution to rebuild Gillig bus radiators), a search for “Flxible” gives me the same one hit. A search for “Bombardier” gives me four hits; a search for “Siemens” came up with quite a few searches. When I search “Gillig” I also get two pages of hits, but many of them are duplicate hits, or links to obscure contracts and resolutions or meeting minutes, rather than customer facing websites that espouse the features of the Gillig fleet (1400s, 1600s, 2100s, plus the 3000s).

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