UMass rolls out lon-n-g-needed buses
AMHERST — A 60-foot vehicle that appears to be two buses attached by an accordion-like midsection is giving both drivers and passengers in the region a certain sense of satisfaction.
“It’s really cool. You’re driving this massive thing,” said Derek Pires, a part-time student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an operations supervisor at UMass Transit Services.
For the hundreds of college students who board the bus, faces suggest how excited they are to ride in the behemoth.
“It’s kind of a show-stopper when approaching the bus stop,” Pires said.
The vehicles are known as articulated buses — though others prefer the term “bendy buses,” due to the pivot between the two 30-foot sections. The fleet arrived on the streets of both Amherst and Northampton recently.
Town Manager John Musante, who serves as chairman of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Advisory Board, said the extra-capacity buses will help meet demand on the busiest routes and are part of local and regional efforts to promote green energy and technology.
All four buses are hybrid-electric powered, meaning that though they are bigger, they will get better gas mileage than the 38 standard buses in the fleet. Those get about 5.5 miles per gallon, while the articulated buses get 6.5 to 7 miles per gallon — up to 27 percent better mileage.
Inside, the buses offer standard seating, with hand rails for passengers to hold while standing.
Glenn Barrington, operations manager for UMass Transit, said the buses will help ensure that people waiting at stops on the busiest routes can get on board in a timely manner.
“This will allow us to provide more access for more people,” Barrington said. “It’s been long needed.”
On most mornings, the stops are so congested at apartment complexes on routes such as Puffton Village and Colonial Village that UMass Transit uses “tripper” buses to sweep in behind to pick up those unable to find room on the regularly scheduled buses.
With 49 seats, these longer buses accommodate 120 college students, or roughly double those who can get on the 35- or 40-foot models.
Barrington said he believes they will prove popular, observing that on curves and turns, the driver and those in the back briefly lose sight of each other.
“It’s like riding on a train, seeing it bend behind you,” Barrington said.
Jeri Baker, director of Transportation Services at UMass, said the increased capacity was the primary consideration in putting the larger buses in service. “Our goal is to limit the number of times we have to pass a customer by,” Baker said.
She also noted that part of the appeal is that these buses, which are more common in urban areas, will draw attention and may encourage riders to try them out.
PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes said her organization began considering adding the longer buses four years ago.
In addition to the two that will used in Amherst and operated by UMass Transit, two bendy buses will be serving routes in Northampton.
MacInnes said each pair of buses purchased came in at a price tag just under $2 million, of which the Federal Transit Administration provided 80 percent of the cost, with the remaining 20 percent anted up by the state’s Department of Transportation.
Barrington said before the buses were purchased, testing was done on campus to ensure they would meet the needs of the routes, and UMass Transit found no difficulties. In fact, even though much longer, they turn just as a 35-foot bus would. That’s because the back tires follow precisely where the lead vehicle’s tires go, he said.
This is important in tight turns, Barrington said. The tightest on the routes is the turn from Route 116 south onto Meadow Street in North Amherst, and this, as well as the roundabout that connects North Pleasant Street, Eastman Lane and Governors Drive on the northern edge of campus, are easily navigated.
Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe, who participated in a demonstration ride, said, “It’s a fantastic way to increase service capacity and it’s great to see them on local roads.”