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Jointed Buses Could Boost Capacity for MTA Passengers

November 28, 1998|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's baaaack! A long, accordion-like bus--like the ones that rumbled down Los Angeles streets in the 1970s and early '80s--is being tested by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to determine if a vehicle from the past can be the ride of the future.

The Southern California Rapid Transit District had problems with the double-bodied buses whose rear trailers sometimes hit parked cars as the coaches turned sharp corners.

But MTA officials assure everyone in sight that the newer buses are more maneuverable, noting that they're in use in New York, San Francisco, San Diego and other cities. Orange County has ordered some, too.

The 60-foot-long buses could help the MTA meet a federal court order that limits passenger loads. They can carry 78 passengers, including standees--20 more than permitted on a standard 40-foot bus. (Actually, articulated buses can carry more than 110 passengers with standees, but the court order limits standing passengers.)

The transit authority also might use articulated buses to meet the political demands for some kind of mass-transit improvements from neighborhoods where long-promised rail lines have been put off because of a funding shortage.

"Articulated buses are an effective tool for . . . increasing capacity on regular bus lines with loading problems and providing a bridge or alternative technology for potential rail markets," said a recent MTA report. But the report noted that articulated bus technology is evolving and the buses "should be approached cautiously."

Transit officials say the high-capacity buses, which flex in the middle like an accordion, might be used on busways or bus-only lanes under consideration for Chandler Boulevard across the San Fernando Valley, Exposition and Wilshire boulevards from downtown Los Angeles to the Westside, and 1st Street and Whittier Boulevard from downtown through the Eastside. The buses also might operate on the Harbor Freeway Transitway and the El Monte busway.

The MTA is considering setting aside bus-only lanes during the commuter rush hour, limiting stops, perhaps to every mile instead of every quarter mile, and installing "signal priority" systems that hold the green lights for buses when they are behind schedule. Officials say that articulated buses may be better suited for bus-only lanes because they are more difficult to merge in and out of traffic.

The transit authority has leased for $1 a month a blue-and-orange demo bus from its manufacturer, New Flyer of America. The agency is testing the bus without riders, but officials say they might try it out on some of the MTA's busiest routes, offering free rides to the public.

The buses, however, pose a political problem for the MTA: They are currently available only with diesel engines. The agency's policy is to buy only buses powered by low-polluting alternative fuels to serve smoggy Los Angeles.

"It's not a choice for us to be crowded like sardines or die with cancer. That's not acceptable," said Ted Robertson, an organizer with the Bus Riders Union.

MTA officials say they also want to know if the buses--which cost about $100,000 more than the standard version--are more economical.

Although three articulated buses can move as many people as four standard models--potentially saving the MTA the cost of one driver--the longer buses cost considerably more to maintain, officials say.

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