Community Transit set to get new double-decker buses rolling

EVERETT — Community Transit is finally set to double up on its fleet of double-decker buses.

The transit agency ordered 22 new double-tall coaches last year and had hoped to introduce them over the summer. The first six arrived in June with structural flaws, though, and that’s pushed back the schedule.

The buses should start serving routes this week now that mechanics from the manufacturer, Alexander Dennis Ltd., have fixed defects between the first and second deck.

“The good thing is that now that summer’s over, we expect a lot more people to be riding our buses into Seattle and we’re grateful to have this extra capacity,” Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia said. “We’ll be able to take more people than we could with the 60-foot (articulated) buses.”

Community Transit nicknamed the new buses “Double Tall,” a reference to Pacific Northwest coffee culture.

The new buses stand 13 feet, six inches high. Each cost nearly $900,000, including tax.

They add to an existing fleet of 23 double-deckers that went into service in 2011, starting with Route 413 from Lynnwood to Seattle.

Once all the new tall buses hit the streets by early next year, they will represent almost a fifth of CT’s overall fleet, CT vehicle maintenance manager Ken Bailey said.

The oldest of Community Transit’s articulated buses, which were built in 1998, are nearing the end of their expected lifespan of more than a half million miles. The agency hopes to keep the tall buses in service for at least that long.

Seventeen of the new double-deckers are intended to replace older articulated buses. Five others will represent new service, adding a combined 300 extra seats every weekday.

CT touts the tall buses over the articulated models on several fronts. For starters, they cost less to operate per passenger.

They’re also better for winter conditions. The drive wheels on the articulated buses are in the back, behind the midsection that bends.

“It’s like pushing a wet noodle,” Bailey said. “Under snowy conditions, we’d prefer not to operate them.”

The double-deckers also seat more passengers: 80 compared to 60 on the articulated models. With standing room, they can hold up to 100 people.

“These buses make sense on our commuter routes,” Munguia said.

Standard CT buses are 40 feet long and seat about 40 people.

Coach manufacturer Alexander Dennis makes iconic double-decker buses in use in London. Although based in Great Britain, the company built the new CT Double Talls at a plant in Nappanee, Indiana.

All new buses undergo inspections and significant modifications once they reach Everett. Even with no major problems, it can take a month for them to hit the road.

“It’s not like a passenger car that you buy in the showroom,” Bailey said.

At the agency’s Hardeson Road facility last week, workers outfitted the new double-deckers with equipment to read ORCA passes, computer-aided radio systems and GPS.

CT inspectors found the issues with the first half-dozen new Double Talls during routine checks, Munguia said. They were concerned with the inter deck, the structure that serves as the roof of the first-floor compartment and the floor of the second level.

“It wasn’t anything that would have been a safety issue right away; it had more to do with the long-term durability,” Munguia said.

The agency decided to fix the problem before the buses went into service, rather than pulling them out later for repairs.

Bailey said it’s common to find glitches on newly delivered buses and that Alexander Dennis has been more responsive than most manufacturers in addressing them.

CT reports that it now operates the second-largest fleet of double-decker buses in the United States. Only the transit area for the Las Vegas area has more.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Community Transit’s new double-decker buses, at a glace:

In service between now and early 2016

Built by UK manufacturer Alexander Dennis Ltd. in Nappanee, Indiana.

Each seats 80 people, with room for up to 100 with standing passengers.

Bike racks can hold three bicycles, compared to two for most bike racks on CT buses

Powered by an 8.9-liter straight-six-cylinder Cummins diesel engine.

Cost per bus: $897,508, including tax.

Federal and state grants paid for 80 percent of 17 buses that are replacing older articulated buses; CT is paying the whole cost of the other five.

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