Articulated buses with few riders? Better social distancing

The extra room on the 60-foot buses allows for greater spacing between riders and from drivers.

Anyone else finding a thrill lately in counting passengers when a bus rolls by?

It’s a sort of social science exercise, like eyeballing traffic on I-5 to get a sense of how many people are going back to work.

Riders on the buses remain pretty sparse, however.

The plummet in public transit ridership and traffic has been well reported. But what caught the eye of a reader was the fact articulated buses, the ones with the accordion-style connection in the middle, are still running.

Blame the usual cause these days, COVID-19.

“Our highest priority is the safety of our employees and our riders and using the articulated buses at this time helps to provide a safer ride for both,” Community Transit spokesperson Nashika Stanbro said in an email.

Community Transit ridership is down about 70% on weekdays and 35% on weekends. The agency operates 116 articulated vehicles, 33 of which are dedicated to Swift routes.

They’ve come in handy for social distancing. Those 60-foot buses allow more space between bodies while keeping a high capacity to meet a route’s demand.

Articulated buses usually serve commuter and Swift routes exclusively. But they’re deployed to other routes that might not normally see them.

Community Transit buses have an automatic passenger counter, which helps the agency determine which routes have the highest ridership and longest commutes, Stanbro said. Both data points are factors as to which routes get articulated buses — as well as lane spacing considerations and intersection sizes, because they need a wider berth to make turns.

Putting more of the larger buses on the road adds expense for Community Transit. Operating and maintaining them costs about 22% more than 30-foot and 40-foot non-articulated buses in the fleet. After all, those longer buses have more tires, more axles, more windows, a two-part HVAC system, an engine with more horsepower, and they burn fuel faster than the smaller buses.

If you see one of those buses trying to make a turn, remember to give it room.

Have a question? Email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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