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USES OF HIGHER CAPACITY BUSES IN TRANSIT SERVICE SUMMARY This study explored the use of higher capacity buses in public transit services in trunk, express, long-distance commuter, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and special services (e.g., sports event specials) in North America. What are higher capacity (HC) buses? For this study the following definition has been used: Higher capacity buses are motor buses that can transport higher volumes of passengers than can be transported with standard 40-foot buses, with a focus on articulated, double-deck, and 45-ft buses. A brief history of HC vehicles in North America is provided in the Introduction, beginning with use of double-deck coaches in 1912 to the current status of HC buses as of January 2007. The transit agency participants in this study began using articulated buses in 1975. Survey respondents began using 45-ft composite structure transit buses in 1994 and 45-ft intercity coaches in 1996. At the start of 2007, those totaled approximately 260 and 2,200, respectively. One survey respondent deployed three double-deck buses in 1996, and other participants deployed larger fleets of low-floor double-deck buses (38 and 50) in 2000 and 2005. Who is using HC buses? For this study it was determined that there were 68 transit agen- cies of all sizes that use five or more HC buses in their operations: 32 used only articulated buses, 19 used only 45-ft buses, 1 used only double-deck buses, and 16 used multiple types of HC buses. These 68 agencies operate more than 6,200 HC buses, which represented on average 15% of a fleet. A questionnaire about their use and experience with HC buses was sent to these agencies. Responses were received from 32 transit agencies (47%) that operated 41 distinct HC bus fleets, providing information and photographs by e-mail, telephone con- versations, and site visits. The U.S. participants included nine large systems (including five of the top ten), nine medium, and seven small transit systems by active fleet size. Of the nine Canadian transit agencies using HC buses, seven participated in the study, four large and three medium-size systems. In terms of HC bus types, 24 of the systems used articulated buses, 3 systems used double-deck buses, and 14 systems used 45-ft buses (all but one using intercity coaches). As of March 2007, there were only eight bus manufacturers that were identified as poten- tial HC bus suppliers to the North American market. Some of the eight manufacturers offer different types of HC buses; three manufacturers offer articulated buses, one offers double- deck buses, and five offer 45-ft buses. Of the eight North American HC bus manufacturers, three meet the testing requirements of both the Altoona Bus Testing Center and Buy America that are needed for transit agencies planning to use U.S. federal capital grants for the purchase of HC buses. In what types of services were the HC buses used? The survey found that articulated buses were principally used all day in high-volume trunk service routes and to augment capacity during peak period service. Double-deck buses were principally used in long-distance commuter and on high-volume trunk routes. The 45-ft intercity coaches were focused on long-distance express and commuter services. BRT services with HC buses were predomi- nantly using articulated buses, although one Canadian system was using 45-ft coaches for an
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2 expressway-oriented BRT service. Those with articulated and 45-ft coaches reported using their HC fleets for service to high-demand special events (sports, fireworks, etc.), as backup to their rail services, and for trippers that experience overloads. What were the reasons these transit agencies chose to use HC buses for these services? The resounding answer received (94%) was to increase seating capacity. Increasing operator pro- ductivity (saving labor costs) and reducing peak vehicle requirements (fewer vehicles in the fleet) followed at 69% and 72%, respectively. Enhancing marketing image and increasing passenger comfort were also frequently cited (59% of the participants). The articulated and double-deck fleets were favored by those most interested in increasing service capacity. The improvement of marketing image and passenger comfort were the primary reasons for choos- ing 45-ft intercity coaches and double-deck buses for long-distance commuter and express services. Various other reasons were also cited for deploying HC buses, among them to address overload situations, to reduce downtown street congestion caused by large numbers of buses, to build ridership along a future rail corridor, etc. In the case of BRT or major new service initiatives for which the vehicle becomes an integral component of the product line, the HC buses may serve to improve the image and recognition of the service. Did their HC buses meet expectations? The answer was an overwhelming (94%) yes. Only two respondents answered no; one was dissatisfied with the slowness of the wheelchair boarding and the other was unhappy with an underperforming engine in their HC bus. Over- all experience with HC buses has been very positive, with some variation with the type of HC vehicle. Agency-reported customer and operator satisfaction and acceptance is high, with articulated fleets receiving slightly lower ratings than those received by the double-deck and 45-ft fleets. Were there any major issues or concerns raised by the use of HC buses? The capital cost of the HC vehicle was the only significant issue, ranked first or second by approximately one- third of the survey respondents. No other single issue was significant across all HC bus types. However, the cost of all types of HC buses is much more attractive when examined on a cost-per-seat basis. The most dramatic difference using a cost-per-seat basis rather than a cost-per-vehicle basis is for the double-deck bus; all articulated models exhibited significant improvement. Also, it is apparent that the propulsion technologies and the options chosen (i.e., BRT features and passenger amenities) have major impacts on capital costs. Were facilities or infrastructure modifications made to accommodate HC buses? Because of their length, height, or door locations, HC buses may require modifications to infrastructure or maintenance facilities including: raising garage doors; lengthening stops, maintenance bays, or paint booths; adding three-axle hoists; or making modifications to their wash facili- ties. However, respondents did not identify the cost of modifications as a significant area of concern; the monetary value of the modifications appeared to be relatively modest, when compared with the capital costs of the vehicles themselves. In many cases, deployment of the articulated buses had been contemplated well in advance of the actual acquisition of the buses, and had been incorporated into the design requirements of new garage facilities. Long-term planning for HC buses greatly reduces the requirement for retrofits to maintenance and stor- age facilities, and related capital costs. How has the operating experience with HC buses compared with that of their standard 40-ft buses? Some frustrations appear to exist with the performance and maintenance cost of specific bus models, in particular for articulated buses. Issues cited included acceleration performance, reliability, and maintenance cost. The design of articulated buses, however, includes more com- ponents than 40-ft buses, entailing higher maintenance costs. Their fuel economy and acceler- ation performance are also lower because of their greater weight. However, when an analysis was performed on data from King County Metro Transit (Washington) on a seat-mile basis, their articulated buses proved to be less costly than their 40-ft fleets in both maintenance costs
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3 and fuel. For the double-deck buses, only fuel economy was reported as poorer in performance than for 40-ft buses; for the 45-ft coaches it was turning radius. Preliminary findings from the operation of hybrid articulated buses appear very positive in terms of improving acceleration and fuel economy compared with diesel articulated buses. The operation of HC buses does not appear to create significant safety concerns. Two large systems reported that there were no significant differences in the safety experience between their HC buses and their standard 40-ft buses. Participants did not identify regulatory limitations as an issue, with only four respondents reporting any changes required. However, operation of articulated and double-deck buses may require obtaining exemptions in many jurisdictions. There were no labor issues reported by any of the study participants. The survey found that 97% of the participants do not pay operators of HC buses at a different wage rate. Participants handled scheduling in a wide variety of ways; many did not mix HC and 40-ft buses, but some did. Scheduling routes that are dedicated to HC buses (i.e., scheduling at the "block" level) is relatively straightforward. However, to target the deployment of HC buses to address specific overload situations through interlining requires a more sophisticated approach to scheduling, including: working at the "trip" (rather then block) level, the use of optimization modules, as well as detailed data on passenger demand, and on running and deadhead times. It also requires that managerial oversight to ensure planned assignments of HC buses are properly carried out. Several participants stressed the importance of reducing dwell times. Reducing dwell time to take full advantage of HC buses remains a significant challenge. For articulated buses in particular, the ability of using all doors for simultaneous boarding and exiting is key to shorter dwell times. Because more and wider doors facilitate quick passenger flow, Las Vegas is going to install a second stairway in their double-deck buses to facilitate passenger flow and reduce dwell times. Several respondents are also encouraging more customers to use pre-paid fare media (e.g., day passes, university passes, and smart cards), and one respondent installed off-board ticketing machines. However, the most comprehensive approach is to move to a fare control system based on proof of payment, with random inspection, similar to that used on light rail systems. This is being more actively considered for bus transit, and the synthe- sis found that proof of payment with off-board fare collection has been deployed on recent BRT systems (e.g., York Region and Lane Transit). Accommodating wheelchairs on HC buses represents another challenge, especially with respect to the implications on dwell time. The time and effort required to accommodate pas- sengers using wheelchairs represents the most common complaint from transit agencies with 45-ft intercity coaches. Some transit agencies with double-deck or articulated buses have implemented mid-door access and/or rear-facing wheelchair positions as a method for reducing the dwell time of HC buses. Participants reported that passengers appreciated the amenities offered by many HC buses, with some differences based on the type of the HC bus. Passengers liked the increase in seats and less crowding in the articulated buses. They like the quiet, ride quality, and view from the upper level of the double-deck buses, sometimes waiting for another bus, if a double-deck bus was coming. The most-liked features of the 45-ft coaches were the comfort of the ride and the quality of the passenger compartment with all the amenities.