BY LETHBRIDGE HERALD ON AUGUST 21, 2017.
© Lethbridge Herald photo by Tijana Martin Lethbridge Transit operations manager Scott Grieco feels the addition of two 30-foot Vicinity buses has been positive thus far. @TMartinHerald
Is smaller really “better”?
Lethbridge riders and transit officials may now answer that question, with two smaller transit buses providing service on some of the city’s lower-demand routes.
Designed in Canada but built in China, the smooth-sided Vicinity buses carried their first passengers here on shuttle service to the air show. They’ve since taken their turn on several runs, mainly newer routes serving westside communities.
And so far, says Lethbridge Transit operations manager Scott Grieco, the response to the shorter buses has been positive. Passengers like their quiet operation and their smooth “air” ride, while drivers appreciate their forward visibility and shorter wheelbase — especially helpful in traffic circles.
The 30-foot Vicinity coaches also cost less to buy, and use significantly less fuel. But Grieco says only time will tell how long they perform under Lethbridge conditions. While today’s full-sized, 40-foot buses are expected to provide 18 years of service, he points out, these smaller ones are rated at 12.
By comparison, some of the high-floor General Motors buses ran here for 27 years. Some of those oldtimers remain in use in other Canadian cities, but communities as far east as Nova Scotia have ordered Vicinity buses for service on local, lower-demand routes.
Completed and marketed by Grande West Transportation, based in Aldergrove, the Vicinity buses have been in operation in some areas of British Columbia since 2013. They made their debut appearance in 2010 as part of the Vancouver Winter Games transport network.
Grande West officials say their company was formed to create “a Canadian designed community shuttle bus” to meet a demand for smaller vehicles — a need not being met by existing manufacturers. Its designers took their cues from B.C. Transit, which provides transit service to communities as different as Nakusp, Nelson and Nanaimo.
And they apparently found the sweet spot. Their 30-foot buses now run in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and another three dozen communities across the nation. Earlier this year, Grande West entered the U.S. market as well.
While the lightweight, uni-body vehicle is built by the Waichai industrial group in Yangzhou, China, it’s fitted with a clean-burning Cummins diesel engine and other North American drivetrain components — the same as Lethbridge Transit’s other buses — at a plant in Aldergrove, east of Vancouver. Grieco says the Lethbridge-ordered models also provide air conditioning, the latest in wheelchair securing equipment, and a rolling access front-door ramp along with the ability to “kneel.”
While the Vicinity coaches have been in service here for just a few weeks, Grieco reports their fuel savings are already obvious: They’ve been getting 2.7 km on a litre of fuel, compared with 2.05 km for their bigger stablemates. Over one year, with buses typically covering 60,000 km in Lethbridge, that could translate into per-vehicle fuel savings of $7,127 at today’s prices.
And that’s after paying about 22 per cent less for each bus, he adds.
But are they a good investment, long-term?
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
Looking back to an earlier fuel-saving initiative, Grieco says the city’s five diesel-electric “hybrid” buses continue to perform well. The full-sized New Flyer hybrids cost about 50 per cent more to buy than conventional diesel models — a cost covered by government grants — but they burn less fuel and generate fewer emissions.
The hybrids, which entered service here in 2012, are built to the same durability standards as the city’s other New Flyer and Nova coaches. But their batteries might have to be replaced several times over that 18-year period, Grieco points out.
And that could be expensive.
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