The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District will be testing out a 62-foot blue “bendy” bus on its overcrowded routes for the next month, starting Monday.
The Nova articulated bus, which is on loan, has 80 seats and a total capacity of 112, compared with 62 in a typical 40-foot bus.
Because of the rising ridership among local college students, the 15X line to SBCC from Isla Vista and the 24 line to Santa Barbara from UCSB run buses at the same time to handle loads and many students are still left behind, according to Paul Tumbleson, MTD’s assistant manager of planning.
If that many more passengers can board the bus at once, MTD can eliminate the second one but maintain the same route frequency, Tumbleson said. The big bus will be tested out almost exclusively on the 15X line.
Tumbleson drove the bus during Friday’s demonstration for the MTD board, staff and local media and said it’s as maneuverable as a shorter bus and even has a better turning radius. Drivers were specially trained to drive the bigger bus for the trial run.
“Santa Barbara does have some narrow streets, but we’re so used to it, it doesn’t mean anything to us,” Tumbleson said.
MTD has many Novas in the fleet already, and this bus is an ultra-low-sulfur diesel that adheres to the organization’s clean motor standards, he said. Nova is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, but the vehicles are made in New York.
One of these buses would cost about $650,000, about the same as a 40-foot hybrid bus.
SBCC Acting President Jack Friedlander welcomed the bus Friday morning and thanked MTD for coming up with a creative solution to keep up with the demand of student riders.
“I can’t overstate how important it is that students can get on,” he said, adding that students can get poor attendance and generally discouraged when it’s difficult to get to campus.
Campus parking is so crowded that students often can’t find spots even when they carpool, so they’re embracing the idea, too.
About 75 percent of the SBCC student population rides MTD buses, and 4,000 to 5,000 students live in Isla Vista, according to Student Senate president J.J. Englert. Gas and tuition prices are ever-increasing and bus fares are included in student fees, so it’s the cheapest option for students, he said.
He added that getting to class on time is critical, especially in the first few days of class when absences result in getting dropped.
“When all else fails, you rely on the bus, and when there’s no room there, there’s nothing left,” Englert said.
Students Aaron Thule and Elie Katzenson said it can be discouraging not to make it onto the bus and have to wait for the next, knowing you’ll be late for or completely miss your class.
For a lot of students, SBCC is their first experience away from home, so having an easy, reliable ride can make a big difference. Katzenson grew up overseas so is used to the articulated buses, but the ride to SBCC from MTD’s downtown office Friday drew lots of looks from pedestrians and other drivers — and will for the next month of its trial runs.