Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Test-sitting a new bus

Every few years, Port Authority of Allegheny County, metro Pittsburgh's public transit system, orders an entirely new style of bus. When they do, it has been customary for them to invite their citizens' groups -- the Allegheny County Transit Council (ACTC) and the Committee on Accessible Transportation (CAT) -- to tour the bus and make comments.

There is more than a grain of sense to this. We are the end users, and no matter how much planning and research goes on, when all is said and done what often happens is that the Pittsburgh order gets built into a larger order with other transit agencies, some larger, some smaller, and maybe we like some of what gets added or deleted, sometimes not. But we do get one prototype bus shipped in. We, the end users get a good look at it, as do various drivers and mechanics at the garages, in their own time and place. After all, they as well as we will have to live with these beasts every day for 12 to 16 years, the typical lifespan of an American transit bus.

Monday 31 July 2017 was a gorgeous summer day, bright blue skies, 80 degrees, just perfect for checking out this 2017 model New Flyer Excelsior articulated bus. It was parked just beyond the regular boarding area for East Busway routes at the Penn Park station downtown. When I arrived, the bus and various dignitaries and staff were already there, looking it over. Interim CEO David Donohoe was there himself, giving it a test-sit and talking to staff, management, and a couple of ACTC and CAT members. I myself arrived by bicycle, and within a couple of minutes had checked out the bike rack. It was nothing extraordinary, the same sort of rack that's already on hundreds of buses. Nothing new here; the real fun was inside.

It helps that I had been on a couple of these tours before. In 1993, I toured new Flxible #2300, along with #2292, one of 10 Orion V buses with a different engine that had arrived only a couple months earlier. I missed getting to tour the 1996 Novabus prototype. I did tour the Neoplan 45-footers (1901-1940), which also involved a tour of the not-yet-completed West Busway, in July 1998; it dead-ended between Crafton and the Parkway West at the time. I missed the tour of the last Neoplan artics (3100-series, in 2004), but did test-sit the New Flyer articulateds (#3200, November 2008). Anyway, a lot of them over the years. In each of these, I learned to listen to the managers as they explain some of the thinking that went into the design decisions. The way to do this is to have an intelligent question or a relevant concern to point out, then just stand next to the right people and patiently wait your turn. Meanwhile, take mental notes.

One thing I pointed out was that there seemed to be a bit of an elevation difference between the main floor of the bus and the articulation joint, maybe a half inch. That's enough to trip over, and I mentioned this to someone. Fifteen minutes later, someone else pointed out the same thing to me, independently, so I went over to the same official and pointed it out a second time. This time, he came back with me to take a look at it himself. One thing that came of it was that he thought it might be possible to get the big rubber ring around the artic point ordered in yellow instead of black, so that it would stand out better. To be honest, that might be enough. But the fact that the concern got looked at at all was because ACTC was invited to have its say, and pointed out something top brass had missed.

I counted 52 seats, about the same as existing artics, and about the same as the 1900 series 45-footers that were retired a couple years ago. The artics will be used on heavy ridership in-city routes like the 61- and 71-series, the East and West Busway all-stops, and a few heavy hauling suburban routes like the O12 McKnight Flyer. We could probably use more than these will replace, as a lot of routes are full to bursting, but the net difference after the 2004 order of artics is retired will be zero or close to it. (The real problem is space; we just don't have room to hold 10 to 20 additional rolling stock, as I understand it. Find 30 acres closer to town than the old closed Harmar facility, and $250 million to build a garage, and then maybe.)

On to the tour. My video camera worked for about the first eight minutes of the visit. About half of that is walking toward the bus and trying out the bike rack; the other half is counting bus seats. Would have been nice to get another 15 to 30 minutes, but oh well. At least I could take pictures and tweet. Here is the video:

Photos I tweeted.

Some photos that Andrew tweeted:

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