This month, C-Tran received its first two of 10 60-foot-long New Flyer Xcelsiors articulated hybrid buses that will be used exclusively on The Vine, the transit agency’s new bus rapid transit system.
Each of the New Flyers is built one at a time. C-Tran expects the remaining eight buses to arrive by late summer or early fall. The Vine is expected to go live around November.
The hulking white-gold New Flyer Xcelsiors were built in St. Cloud, Minn., and cost $1.1 million each. Being diesel-electric hybrids, the buses cost more than their fossil-fuel counterparts, but Scott Patterson, C-Tran’s director of planning and development, said the fuel savings will add up. He didn’t have cost comparisons immediately available, but he said a 40-foot hybrid bus costs about $125,000 more than a diesel-only model.
Buses typically stay on the road for a long time. C-Tran recently retired seven buses purchased in 1995. Four of those had logged more than 1 million miles.
With around 2 million trips per year, Fourth Plain and Fort Vancouver Way are C-Tran’s busiest areas, which is why they were the chosen corridors for the area’s first bus rapid transit system.
The Vine will replace routes 4 and 44. Everything about the Vine, from having riders pay on the platform to giving buses priority at traffic lights, is planned for efficiency. The buses that will run on The Vine are no exception.
When it comes to keeping a bus running on time, it’s the little things that matter. Loading passengers at only one door, waiting for them to pay, having drivers stopping to assist wheelchair-bound passengers — all those things pile up and can make a bus perpetually late.
The new buses are designed to make those things run as smoothly as possible. The Xcelsiors are designed to carry up to 100 people and three bicycles. With low floors and three doors, one of which will be primarily for wheelchairs, passengers will be able to get on and off quickly after they’ve paid at the platform.
Also, for wheelchair-bound passengers, strapping their chairs down will be optional because of rear-facing parking areas.
Patterson said not only is the rear-facing design as safe in a collision as the traditional floor-bound straps, but they’ll more easily accommodate a broad range of wheelchair designs. Chair loading typically takes three to five minutes for each. Now, passengers will be able to self-load in seconds.
“It’ll be a major time-saver,” Patterson said.
Cyclists won’t have to load their bikes on the front of the bus. Instead, they’ll be able to bring them onboard and store them on an internal bike rack.
The buses’ interiors are wrapped in green and yellow to match the color scheme of The Vine.
Buses are already one of the least nimble vehicles on the road, but The Vine’s buses will have a tighter turning radius than the 40-foot buses currently used by C-Tran, thanks to the hinge in the middle.
But, the new buses are wider and lower and will take some getting used to for drivers. To get them up to speed, C-Tran is going to pour a curb at its maintenance center so drivers can practice coming alongside before the buses go into use on city streets.