Community Transit to add fleet of double-decker buses

EVERETT — A couple of years from now, Snohomish County, in at least one way, will look more like some other parts of the world.

The county will have its own fleet of double-decker buses, courtesy of Community Transit.

Snohomish County’s primary public transportation agency announced Monday it will buy 23 of the buses and put them into operation beginning in 2010.

Community Transit’s ridership is booming at least in part due to rising gas prices, spokesman Martin Munguia said. The agency plans to run the buses on its 31 express routes to King County.

Community Transit will become only the second public transit agency in the United States to operate a fleet of double-decker buses, with Las Vegas being the other, according to Munguia.

While double-decker buses are most often associated with London, they are used in many other locations around the world, especially in former British colonies such as Hong Kong and Victoria, B.C. In many places, the classic red style is giving way to a sleeker, more modern version.

Community Transit already has one double-decker bus — nicknamed “Double Tall,” in deference to the Northwest’s reputation for coffee — that began service in August.

The agency leased the bus for $15,000 per month for a year with the idea of testing its performance so the agency could see whether it would want to buy more.

The bus not only passed the performance test, it passed the popularity test as well, Munguia said.

“Everyone wants to ride it,” he said.

“People are exploring their commute options, and we’re doing our best to make transit attractive,” Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor said, noting the “great views” from the top of Double Tall.

The buses can seat more passengers — 72, compared with 40 for a regular bus and 59 for a 60-foot articulated coach — without taking up more space. With standing room, the double-decker buses can hold 92 people. Several of the articulated buses are nearing the end of their life expectancy and will be ready for retirement by 2010.

The leased bus is 14 feet tall, short enough to clear bridges, while standard buses are 10 feet tall.

Community Transit expects to spend $18 million on the project, an average of about $650,000 to $700,000 per bus. An articulated bus costs about $580,000 and a regular bus about $450,000. The agency has asked the federal government for $8 million, but it will buy the buses whether it gets the grant or not, shifting money from other projects if necessary, Munguia said.

To maintain a clean look, the agency doesn’t plan to sell advertising for the sides of the buses, he said, though that could change if it needs the revenue.

Community Transit will solicit bids for the buses. A likely candidate to build CT’s new buses is Alexander Dennis Ltd. of Great Britain, which makes most of the coaches in London and made the bus currently leased by CT.

The number of passengers using Community Transit’s bus, vanpool and paratransit service jumped by 1 million, from 9.9 million riders in 2006 to a record 10.9 million last year, according to Munguia. In January 2008, ridership was up 8 percent over the same month one year ago.

For now, the company doesn’t plan to add service ­— the buses are just fuller. Next year, the company plans to add 15 “Swift” express buses to Highway 99, and the double-deckers the year after.

Double Tall is rotated every two weeks among the express routes to downtown Seattle. Its schedule through June is posted on the Community Transit Web site. Riders often adjust their schedule so they can ride on Double Tall, Munguia said.

Kim Johnson, 32, of Everett rode the bus for the first time Monday by chance, she said. She took it as she returned to the Mariner park-and-ride lot in south Everett from her job in downtown Seattle.

“It was funny riding through downtown Seattle with everyone looking at you,” she said. “It was a blast.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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