Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's being labeled as a cleaner, greener and more efficient bus and it has taken to Cowichan Valley streets thanks to a BC Transit test project. The Vicinity, a 27.5-foot European-inspired community bus is being tested in the Valley as part of BC Transit's multi-community trial. "It's like a mini bus really," said Jim Wakeham, the Cowichan Valley Regional District's transit manager. "They are going to try to run it on as many routes as possible over the next month." After that it heads to a different community for more testing.

The goal is to get the maximum exposure to B.C.'s varied weather conditions and terrain. Wakeham isn't sure if the Vicinity bus will make a good fit for the Valley but he's keen to see if it'll work. "We've got a very interesting demographic and geography, he said. "In some routes we need the conventional larger bus. A lot of it too, is the bus itself and how it handles with all of our weather and how it handles with the hills we have to go up and down."
The prototype Vicinity bus began testing on the Sea-To-Sky highway during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Cowichan is just the second pilot community to test the prototype bus. "We are the first and only Vancouver Island coastal community that is going to get a shot at this," he said. Smaller than a typical bus, the compact and narrow Vicinity is being eyed as a potential alternative for use on community routes, often travelling through residential streets. The Vicinity includes a ramp at the front with kneeling capabilities, and seats 23 passen-gers.

Thus far, drivers have said the bus offers good visibility and drivability while BC Transit reports customers have noticed a smoother ride, due to the computerized air-ride suspension. "What they're trying to do is survey the bus drivers, the operating company, the customers, the mechanics and get a feel from everybody and rate this after they go from community to community," Wakeham said. Preliminary data shows substantial long-term cost savings compared to other buses in its class.

The buses may be the future of community transit systems, says Manuel Achadinha, president and CEO of BC Transit. "This prototype is an example of how BC Transit continually strives to identify innovative and sustainable transportation choices," he said. Even if the bus is deemed well-suited to the area, Wakeham said it'll take a year to 18 months at the very least before the possibility will even exist to order one or more buses to serve the Valley. Even so, he's happy for the sneak peek. "I'm just happy that we get a test instead of relying on other communities' feedback," he said. "It's kind of nice to be able to give it a test run of our own."