Penticton residents will soon see a new type of bus on the streets, as part of a five-week trial to determine community support and performance of B.C. Transit’s demonstration vehicle, Vicinity bus.
The Vicinity is a European-inspired community bus that seats 23 passengers, with standing room for 16 more. This new bus model is 8.4 metres long (compared to the standard 12-metre buses) and better suited to community routes.
“I encourage all Penticton residents to take a ride on the new bus while it’s in operation over this trial period,” said Mayor Dan Ashton. “We’re excited at the potential of having what appears to be a more cost effective, environmentally-friendly bus in our city, but want to ensure that all relevant factors are being taken into consideration.”
One of those relevant factors got put to the test on a special run Thursday for a small group of dignitaries and riders. Disabled advocate James Ludvigson was one of those riders, and he spent the short trip discussing some of the problems faced by wheelchair and scooter-bound riders with Ashton and Matt Berry, the Penticton Transit representative.
Because of the smaller size of the bus, it only has space for two wheelchairs or scooters to be strapped in, rather than the three on standard buses. Ludvigson liked the feel of the bus, but was concerned that during peak periods, people using wheelchairs, scooters and walkers might be forced to wait for the next bus if those spaces were filled.
Berry and Ashton agreed that might be a problem, but added that is one of the purposes of the try-out, to spot potential problems. Berry added that B.C. Transit has already indicated that future versions of the Vicinity may have the possibility of more mobility-aid positions.
“This is an opportunity to actually try it, and give people a chance to see if this is going to work or is it not,” said Berry.
The bus is, however, designed with a low floor to increase accessibility and, like Penticton’s current buses, includes a ramp at the front door with kneeling capabilities.
“This one has a big bus feel, but the manoeuvrability is a lot better. It turns a lot easier. It’s great for outlying and residential areas,” said Ron Brown, a safety and training officer with B.C. Transit out of Victoria.
This is the second time he has brought the prototype bus up to the Okanagan. This time, he said, the weather was much better — the first trip he ran into a blizzard on the Hope-Princeton Highway.
“Worst blizzard they’ve had in 18 years and the bus performed great,” he said. “We had semis going off the road, but this little thing made it through no problem. It was a lot nicer trip this time.”
While Brown wasn’t sure of the exact numbers, he said the Vicinity has much better fuel efficiency than its longer cousins.
“It gets about twice the fuel mileage out of it and it’s half the price purchase, so it’s a win-win,” said Brown.
Built in China, but with a North American-manufactured drive train, the Vicinity should also have lower maintenance costs, resulting in long-term operational cost savings.
During the trial period, information related to impacts on passengers, fuel efficiency and ease of maintenance will be gathered through surveys from drivers, maintenance staff and customers to determine whether the Vicinity is suited for the Penticton environment.
Test results in other communities have shown substantial long-term cost savings. Drivers have commented that the bus offers improved visibility and is easier to drive, while customers have noticed a smoother ride, due to the computerized air-ride suspension.