AC Transit considers adding double-decker buses to fleet

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AC Transit is considering the purchase of double-decker buses after a trial period produced positive feedback from the public and internal stakeholders.

A double-decker bus was in service on Transbay lines and local line 51B for a three-week pilot test in February and March, according to a staff report released Wednesday by AC Transit Interim General Manager Kathleen Kelly. The staff report said that “nearly 90% of respondents” thought the bus would be a welcome addition to the district’s fleet.

During the test period, AC Transit ambassadors distributed a poll to bus passengers, collecting more than 2,500 completed surveys, according to the staff report.

Monica Multer, who recently graduated from UC Berkeley, rode on the double-decker bus several times during its trial period.

“It seemed generally very nice, but I didn’t know how much of it was like a shiny-new-veneer sort of thing, and once it gets broken in, it’ll be just like (the current buses),” she said.

Questions on the survey addressed specific features of the bus, such as headroom, ease of entering the bus and ride quality. Another section of the survey included a space for additional comments, where, according to the staff report, “the majority of responses were brief and positive.”

In a focus group with four of the six operators who had driven the double-decker buses, the drivers “stressed it would only work on Transbay routes,” the staff report said. Challenges reported by the drivers included difficulty regulating temperature, slowness of local service and changes in required stop maneuvers.

If new double-decker buses were to be added to AC Transit’s fleet, both operators and maintenance workers would receive training on how to handle the new buses, according to Michele Joseph, director of marketing and communications for AC Transit. This is the case whenever a new bus is added to the fleet, she said.

Earlier this summer, a fleet-replacement funding request, including funds for double-decker buses, was submitted to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

“AC transit would like to add some double-decker buses to the fleet as they go about the business of modernizing their fleet and bringing their system up to a state of good repair,” said MTC spokesperson John Goodman.

According to Joseph, the double-decker buses will be used on Transbay routes. The current buses used by AC Transit accommodate 37 people seated, but the double-decker buses can accommodate 80 people seated, she said.

The estimated cost of a double-decker bus is $850,000 according to Joseph, while 60-foot articulated buses cost about $840,000, 45-foot buses cost about $580,000, and the 40-foot buses that are currently in use cost about $480,000.

Having double-decker buses instead of long articulated buses, however, will allow the buses to have less of an effect on traffic, thereby “making the system more efficient,” said Laura Schewel, CEO of StreetLight Data and a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, in an email.

“The novelty to be able to ride across the bay, the view from the top of the double-decker bus going across the bay, is just something that people don’t get to experience when they’re driving in their car,” Joseph said.

According to Joseph, AC Transit is not considering cutting the frequency of service on the Transbay routes if it uses double-decker buses.

“We certainly want to maintain a level of convenience for our customers, and we only see that ridership is going to grow,” she said.

Contact Kayla Kettmann at [email protected].