Thursday, May 12, 2011

When Penticton council narrowly approved the purchase of eight new former-Olympic buses last year, one of the concerns raised was that the city’s buses often run well-under capacity, necessitating huge civic subsidies for most trips.

Last week, the city got a chance to look at a new smaller, more efficient bus that may fit well in the municipality’s transit system.

The Vicinity community bus was in town as part of a larger tour the prototype is on throughout the province.

At 27.5 feet long, holding 23 seated passengers and another 16 standing ones, the Vicinity is about half the size of a typical 40-seat bus. The bus can also accommodate two wheelchairs at a time, with the ability to lower itself to the curb to allow people to roll on board.

BC Transit tested the Vicinity in Squamish during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and more recently in Quesnel and the Cowichan Valley in a variety of climates and terrains.

According to the corporation, the results showed substantial long-term savings in fuel and maintenance costs as well as overall longer service life due to its more durable frame, compared to other smaller buses in its class.  At under $280,000 per bus, the Vicinity is also about half the price of a larger 40-seat bus.

“The Vicinity has all the attributes of a larger conventional bus but its compact size makes it more versatile to better serve various neighbourhoods and communities,” concluded BC Transit president Manuel Achadinha.

After taking a look at the Vicinity, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said he thinks the bus could be a good fit for the municipality.

“The bus would be good for us because of their small size for getting around,” said Ashton.

“They are substantially more fuel-efficient. So there is quite a lot of fuel cost savings there we could benefit from.”

Noting that Penticton and its surrounding area contains many rural roads, Ashton said he also liked the sturdy quality of the Vicinity.

“BC Transit has never had a bus that would meet our criteria,” he said. “These buses are designed for the rigmaroles and wear and tear and everything else.”

According to Achadinha, BC Transit has ordered 15 Vicinity buses to be used throughout the province on a trial basis to determine whether more should be purchased.

Ashton said he asked Transit if Penticton could be one of the communities which gets to test one of the buses.

“They said there would be big demand for it but that they would take it under consideration,” Ashton reported. “There is a lot of different routes that we have in Penticton so hopefully we will get an opportunity to have one of those buses and try it out.”