If you happen to see a smaller version of a city bus on Penticton streets, it’s not because one of the bigger buses got stuck in the wash.
Penticton has swapped out two of the city’s transit fleet for the new Vicinity buses, which started rolling along routes this week.
“It’s a smaller vehicle. It’s 27.5 feet compared to 40. So there is less room on the bus, but they have also accommodated two wheelchairs in the new design versus one in the previous, so that is a significant improvement,” said Matt Berry, president of Berry & Smith, which operates the city’s transit system.
Besides the lack of room for wheelchairs and other accessibility aids, the initial five-week trial in 2012 showed there were several concerns with the prototype bus.
Berry said many of those have been addressed in the production model along with other concerns.
“It’s got a little wider entranceway coming into the bus, so that gives easier access for people in wheelchairs or scooters, other mobility aids. A little stronger wiring inside the bus, so the wiring mechanisms that make up the bus are better. The fit and finish has been improved,” said Berry, who points out that the small bus design still involves trade-offs, including less passenger room — 23 seats and 16 standing — and a single door at the front of the bus.
The smaller bus also means less fuel consumption, less emissions and more maneuverability.
Berry said they are going to be careful not to use them on heavily travelled routes or busy times.
“The Main Street run has more than one bus. Because that has more frequent service overall, there are more riders, but there are two buses. So we are going to experiment a little with that,” said Berry, adding that they are also planning to use it on the night and No. 2 routes, which have fewer passengers.
“We do want to rotate it through. Our plan is to utilize the buses as much as possible.”
It’s been more than a year since Penticton first gave the smaller Vicinity buses a five-week trial at the request of B.C. Transit.
The production models are also on a trial, though this time there is no fixed end date.
“We are probably going to look at using it for a year and then we can revisit it with B.C. Transit,” said Mitch Moroziuk, director of operations for the city.
After Penticton and other communities gave the prototype a poor rating, B.C. Transit came back with what Moroziuk called a “win-win” deal for the city, offering to swap two of the existing Nova buses for the smaller ones.
If the buses are now found to be suitable, they will permanently be transferred to Penticton’s fleet.
If not, B.C. Transit will return the larger buses. During the trial period, the city will be charged the lease and gas rates for the smaller buses, which are expected to save the city $34,000 annually.
“The bus is a nice riding bus and it’s very maneuverable,” said Berry. “It does only have one door instead of two, so that is something the public needs to be aware of. It will take a little longer to get on and off the bus, so that is a factor.”