Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pros and cons of Ottawa's $82M double-decker bus purchase

The City of Ottawa's (interim) Transit Commission has recently approved a purchase of 75 double-decker buses for $81.8M to build up the OC Transpo fleet. Sounds like a lot of money, especially since it's been less than a year since the city spent $155M to get 226 new articulated buses. But, as is usually the case, there are pros and cons to the purchase.

This may not be an exhaustive list (I encourage people to add what I've overlooked in the comments), but here's a quick look at some of them:

  • Higher seating capacity. Although the expected capacity for a double-decker is supposed to be around the same number as an articulated, there are more seats--which means more comfort for passengers.
  • Lower road-space per person. Double-deckers are the same length as a 40-foot bus, but have the same capacity as an articulated. Anyone who's ridden through the Transitway at peak periods knows this more compactness can be valuable.
  • Lower costs. The new buses will replace 158 older 40-foot buses in the fleet, meaning lower maintenance costs; net savings are estimated at $20.4M.
  • Simpler identification. Typically, if you're waiting for an express bus, you can watch for a double-decker. If you're looking for a Transitway route, look for an articulated. Seems minor, but as dozens of buses are driving by you at Bank and Albert or something, it can be a serious relief.
  • Less flexibility. The double-deckers are earmarked for express routes, but there are a certain few spots where they can't run. This reduces the flexibility of moving them around as needed, and will require more planning.
  • No garage space. Although part of the $81.8M price tag is $24M for new washing facilities, the new $97M bus garage on Industrial Avenue is not designed with double-deckers in mind.
  • Accessibility. There are some concerns about accessibility for riders in wheelchairs, as outlined by CBC. They will likely be addressed, but are initially an issue.
  • Loading time. Because riders can't (or aren't supposed to) be standing in the stairs or on the upper deck while the bus is moving, loading and unloading time is a concern. (This is less of a concern on express routes, where stops are less frequent.)
While I'm not sure the fleet--already a very modern one--necessarily needed these upgrades just yet, the addition of double deckers could very well prove a positive move for OC Transpo.


Centretowner said...

"Less flexibility" also goes into what routes they can go on. They would be absolutely useless for routes like routes 1-20, which have frequent stops downtown and very few people (in their right minds, at least) riding it for extended periods--especially since the 2 and 3 were split.

So this could mean that if an extra bus is needed for a local route, it might be harder to get a single-storey bus, and therefore more likely to skip that run.

(As for their usefulness or usability for express routes, I plead ignorance on that. If they work for those routes then great.)

Anonymous said...

Centretowner, I guess it depends on what you mean by "extended period of time". The ride from Bank and Somerset to Carleton on the 4 or 7 can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on traffic. I'd call that extended.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone addressed the issue of Passanger Safety when talking about these typpes of buses? What, or more appropriately who will be able to react when an altercation between surly riders occurs? Unless you post a Security Officer at the top level who is there to aid someone in need as it's hard enough to get the attention of a bus driver to provide any necessary emergency action.

Anonymous said...

One problem I foresee with the double-deckers is that you likely won't be able to overstuff them as you can on the articulated buses. The articulated buses have more capacity designated as standing room; while it might not be comfortable, these are the people that do squeeze together to fit the extra rider when a bus is filled,. Since only eight people will be standing on a "filled" bus, there will be much less space in which an additional rider can be squished. I'm not sure if express buses fill that much (it could be unbearable to be packed like sardines for the length of an express trip), but it happens regularly during rush hours on the major transitway routes.

The major benefit to the double-deckers is the reduction in road space used compared to a similar-capacity articulated bus. The current problem with the transitway (the problem that will eventually result in LRT) is that the downtown core literally cannot fit any more buses during rush hour. If every articulated bus was replaced by a double-decker, we could fit 1.5-2 times more buses in the core and increase bus capacity.

Robert said...

From a bus driver's perspective double-deckers are easier to steer than articulateds in heavy traffic since there's no cut-in by the semi-trailer portion when turning corners. This has safety benefits especially for bikers or pedestrians at the curb.

Also in icy conditions there is more stability without a trailer tending to jacknife.