Tuesday, October 15, 2013

They're shorter and cheaper, but hold the same number of passengers

by Elaine Anselmi

A fleet of 15 new Vicinity buses are being dispatched across the province, and Dawson Creek is getting the largest share of them, with four set to hit the streets by the end of the month.

Local government officials and media tested out the new buses on Friday, taking part in a BC Transit Roadeo.

“We’re always looking at better ways of doing business,” said South Peace MLA Mike Bernier, before he got behind the wheel. “We spend more per capita on transit than any other province because we know how important it is.”

Bernier and Mayor Dale Bumstead were the first contestants to complete the professionally laid-out course in both the old red and white bus and a new Vicinity model.

The course – including tight turns, “curbside” parking, reversing into a parking spot and rearview clearance – was laid out to simulate what an actual bus driver would face on city streets, said Ron Brown, safety and training officer for BC Transit.

“This was my first time ever driving a bus,” said Bumstead. “I was amazed at how maneuverable they are.” He noted the distinct increase in ease of driving the Vicinity buses versus the old model.

The new buses cost $300,000, compared to $500,000 for the old models, and are paid for as part of the existing agreement with BC Transit.

At 27.5 feet, the Vicinity buses are significantly shorter than the old 35-foot buses but maintain the same capacity, said Meribeth Burton, a spokesperson for BC Transit. The bus has two wheelchair positions, 23 seats and standing room for 16. The main floor also has 10 folding seats to allow for strollers or mobility aids.

Bumstead also made a speech about the importance of transit for marginalized community members and the city as a whole.

“I absolutely want to offer our thanks on behalf of the city to BC Transit for their partnership,” he said.

Todd Dupuis of BC Transit also told a story about a time last year when heavy snowfall halted transit operations in the city. Bernier, while driving around to collect his own children, temporarily traded in his then-mayor’s hat to play city bus driver in his own truck, for others caught without transit options.

Brown explained that the new buses have an effective heating system that should stand up to the cold weather.

“It’s all computerized with climate controls,” he said. “It has auxiliary heat too, which gives more heat to the cab area. So we’re hoping that it’s going to be quite sufficient to keep everybody [warm] when you guys get to your minus degrees.”

As well as being the onboard bus mentor to the government and media representatives, Brown spent the day acclimatizing the local bus trainer to the Vicinity model.

“I’ll make him familiar with the bus, give him all the details on it, to get him so he’s well-versed with it and he’ll train his own drivers here,” he said.

City bus drivers will be training on the new vehicles this week, said Brown.

The old buses taken off route will go into the province’s contingency fleet, brought back into use wherever needed said Burton. If, for example, one year of models needed warranty work, they are taken off route, with the contingency fleet brought in for the interim.

As for the Mayor and MLA’s driving skills? Brown said: “everybody’s done very well here. They’ve got good control of the bus. I was very impressed with them all with the rear-view clearance it’s one of the toughest obstacles and they succeeded very well at this.”

High praise from a seven-time bus roadeo champion.