Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OC Transpo's double-decker safety and reliability concerns

photo via CBC

When the City of Ottawa initially discussed the inclusion of double-decker buses in OC Transpo's fleet, I had some concerns about their performance in the city--but was mostly intrigued by the novelty of the vehicles. After a little while with them integrated into the transit system, though, questions seem to be coming up about their suitability in Ottawa's climate and within OC Transpo's system.

Last week, it came out that OC Transpo and the union representing bus operators (ATU 279) has reached an agreement that would see double deckers kept off a section Woodroffe Avenue out of concerns for safety after a couple were blown into the ditch due to high winds blowing across the farm fields in the Greenbelt on either side of the roadway.

According to OC Transpo's official Twitter account, the agreement only affects a section of Woodroffe Avenue from the Nepean Sportsplex to Fallowfield Station--a four-kilometre stretch used exclusively by out-of-service buses:

With that in mind, it's not much of a concern from a rider's perspective; the stretch runs parallel to the Southwest Transitway, so the only change we're likely to see (aside from fewer buses in the ditch, hopefully) is more out-of-service double-decker buses running along the Transitway.

As a refresher, Ottawa bought 75 double-decker buses at a cost of roughly $82M a couple years back. These buses offer good "horizontal efficiency," so to speak, because they carry a comparable number of passengers to articulated buses but are the same length as a standard 40-footer--a significant benefit given the congestion along the Transitway downtown at rush hour. They also have more seats than an articulated bus, resulting in greater comfort for riders (although the upper-deck seats are not designed for tall people, trust me).

However, due to the time required for loading and unloading passengers, the buses are mostly used for express routes--which means that for most of the day, these buses are mostly parked and unused. They are, essentially, reserved for express route use.

Thing specific change restricting double-deckers from a rather small stretch of Woodroffe Avenue doesn't seem to be a very significant cause for concern, but potential problems navigating windy and slushy road conditions certainly are. (Of course, it's also worth noting that articulated buses can sometimes struggle with Ottawa winters, as well.)

I'm curious: Are readers questioning the suitability of double-decker buses for Ottawa's transit needs?


Christopher Hyne said...

It's also worth noting that even private vehicles sometimes struggle with Ottawa winters. Buses stuck in the snow is really only newsworthy if they are the ONLY vehicles on the road that are getting stuck.

David said...

I'm not sure how this change in policy actually changes anything.

Yes, that section of Woodroffe has high exposed embankments and deep ditches... but then so too does the parallel transitway. The same issue of high winds exists for both roads.

Never mind the suitability of double deckers for transit in Ottawa - we should be questioning the suitability of the entire BRT concept in Ottawa. After all, the articulated buses have already proved problematic in winter. Basically both types of high capacity bus have trouble with Ottawa's winters. The busways and roads over which all these buses travel require heavy salting in winter and frequent repairs.

On all counts railways and rail vehicles are far better suited to Ottawa's winters. Rail vehicles clear their own path of snow, the lines do not need salting and any heaving of the railbed caused by frost can be addressed with a spring run of the tamping machine.

Anonymous said...

DD rider...
The upper deck requires a passenger over 5'8' to duck down while moving to a seat and upon leaving, but the extended leg room between seats accommodates people as tall a 6'2...so even tall people can enjoy the uppder deck of these buses, trust me, I ride them and see them.

Peter Raaymakers said...

@Christopher: True, but the specific concern about double-deckers is windy conditions and the sail-like effect that comes with their large surface area. Also, most other vehicles don't carry dozens of passengers at once!

@David: Those are good points, especially the one about the suitability of BRT for a city with Ottawa's climate. If you'd like, please send me an e-mail to explore the possibility of expanding on the argument.

@Anon@12:30: I guess it depends how tall you are, because I'm 6'4" and the bus seats on the upper deck are pretty tough on my knees. (Not that I'm suggesting that buses should be designed to accomodate people who are 6'4", but it does get uncomfortable when they're not.)