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MTD Buying Bendy Buses to Ease Overcrowding on SBCC-Isla Vista Routes

Board of Directors approves the purchase after trial runs of the larger 'articulated' vehicles prove effective

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District plans to buy three “articulated” buses for $1.95 million after a trial run of the big vehicles proved successful in ferrying more local college students between UC Santa Barbara/Isla Vista and Santa Barbara.

The MTD Board of Directors authorized purchase of the vehicles, also known as “bendy buses,” from Nova Bus at an April meeting, and General Manager Sherrie Fisher said she believes they will be ordered in time to hit the streets in the summer of 2013.

Articulated buses typically are comprised of two rigid sections linked by a pivoting joint. They provide much greater capacity while still able to negotiate their normal routes.

“We are swapping other types of buses to get this articulated bus, it’s basically to handle the huge need between UC Santa Barbara/Isla Vista and Santa Barbara City College,” board member Roger Aceves said.

The 62-foot loaner from Nova Bus was tested on the 24 line and 15X line, which run between UCSB/Isla Vista and SBCC and the downtown transit center, because of rising ridership among college students, MTD said at the pilot program’s launch.

About 75 percent of SBCC students ride MTD buses, and 4,000 to 5,000 of them live in Isla Vista, Student Senate President J.J. Englert told Noozhawk during the trial run. It’s so many people that MTD has been running multiple buses at the same time to handle the load and avoid leaving people behind.

During a typical school-year weekday, MTD has to run as many as five unscheduled “booster buses” to keep up with increased student riders demand, which isn’t cost-effective, MTD staff said in its analysis of the articulated bus trial run.

Community and driver feedback during the test month was positive; the buses hold more than twice as many passengers as a normal bus, and maneuvered well up Carrillo Hill, got up to speed in time from the Highway 101 onramps, and had no turning-radius issues, according to the staff report.

The “bendy” buses have a 112-person capacity — more than double that of a typical 40-foot bus — and about a $650,000 price tag, compared to $450,000 for a normal bus.

The mere size of the buses could pose issues for existing bus stops — some are too short — and maintenance staff, since the canopies are too short and parts are different from MTD’s current fleet of buses. It would cost $250,000 to retrofit the maintenance canopy, and some bus stops would have to be modified or relocated.

However, the larger buses are expected to solve the system’s overload problems. If they do, and MTD can reduce its service hours, there would be $48,000 in annual operating cost savings. If not, MTD’s annual operating cost is expected to increase by $32,000.

“When your job is to transport people, you never want to leave people behind — it’s just not in your makeup, you need to take care of everybody,” said Aceves, who made the motion to purchase the buses. “It will help save money in the long run. Instead of running two or three buses at a time, we’ll be able to do one bus and get passengers in more efficiently.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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