There’s no mistaking the extra-long, gold buses that officially began rolling through the Fourth Plain corridor Monday as C-Tran’s Vine buses and the platforms they serve made their debut a day late.
The Vine, the Portland area’s first bus rapid transit service, technically went live on Sunday. But ice and snow kept the big buses off the road, as C-Tran employed its regular 40-footers instead and used the old Route 4 bus stops.
Unlike other buses in the C-Tran fleet, the articulating buses aren’t equipped with drop-down tire chains, and the swinging end of the buses can be unpredictable in ice and snow. C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk said the transit agency is speaking with other articulated bus operators with similar climates to learn about operating articulated buses in wintery conditions.
“The odds of it happening were pretty long, but nature saw otherwise and decided to give us a little bit of a surprise,” Selk said of the storm. “It’s new territory to us, trying not only to figure out how these buses are going to perform but to also communicate it all to passengers. But there are a few things you just can’t know before it happens.”
The ice melted Monday, clearing the way to debut the new buses, platforms and ticket kiosks on each platform — save for a short early-morning detour downtown.
Passenger Katie Cochrun boarded The Vine downtown. She said she liked the buses’ cleanliness, the fact they accommodate more people and that The Vine covers the route faster than its predecessor. She said there have been several times when she was nearly late for work because drivers needed to stop to help wheelchair-using passengers board conventional buses.
With their low floors and dedicated areas for disabled passengers, plus elevated boarding platforms, most people on wheels can roll aboard The Vine. Still, Cochrun was dismayed that, like conventional fare boxes, the new ticket kiosks on the platform don’t give change. And she couldn’t help but wonder if the $53 million bus rapid transit system, which replaced Routes 4 and 44, was worth the money.
“I’m split on it because it’s just like the (old) Number 4 (bus) and it was expensive,” she said. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
C-Tran’s goal for The Vine is to improve service performance along the Fourth Plain transit corridor and reduce the travel time. The Fourth Plain corridor attracts about 6,000 riders a day, which sometimes resulted in overcrowded buses and delays.
The new 60-foot buses can accommodate nearly double the number of people a 40-foot bus accommodates. Plus, the trip is faster because riders pay at the platform. Cyclists can store their bikes on board, eliminating the need to operate an exterior rack on the bus’ nose. The buses can also manipulate traffic signals in their favor.
Saving time, money
In all, C-Tran estimates The Vine can save riders about 10 minutes each way, compared with traditional bus service.
On weekdays, The Vine will hit each of its 34 stops every 10 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., with less frequent service during other hours. On weekends, it’ll stop every 15 minutes between peak hours of 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Due to lower operating expenses, facility upgrades and other factors, C-Tran estimates The Vine will save about $877,000 per year in operating costs.
With their tall metal beams and sloped glass ceilings, the new Vine platforms are easily recognizable and a far cry from a traditional C-Tran bus stop, only some of which are covered. Each Vine platform features unique art, a ticket kiosk and an electronic reader board that displays when the next bus will be arriving.
Many riders on Monday were still adjusting to the fact they don’t have to show the driver their ticket every time they board. Fare compliance officers will randomly ride The Vine and ask passengers for tickets. Passengers also had to get used to boarding at the middle or rear doors — but not the front.
At the new Vancouver Mall Transit Center on the south side of the mall, rider Matt Baird said Vancouver was long overdue for an infrastructure improvement like The Vine. He appreciated the increased capacity of the buses and their cost-efficiency over predecessors.
“I definitely think it was a worthwhile investment,” he said.