Friday, July 18, 2008

First Impressions Part II

Rail pictogram: see Rail Icons for more inform...Image via WikipediaIn my last entry, I arrived at Central Station after my first ride on a Front Runner revenue service train. After helping one gentleman find his way to Gateway, I hopped aboard a Sandy train deciding it was time to eat (now 2:00pm).

After looking at the schedules I realized I could take TRAX down to Millcreek Station and then catch a 35M to 4800 South to eat at the Chinese Gourment restaurant and get in the MAX line. This would still allow me to get back to Salt Lake in plenty of time for a meeting at 6:00pm.

The train down to Millcreek was crowed but not overly crowed and before long I got off and headed to the MAX station. The relief driver was there along with a lady from UTA administration that I recognized and a guy going to get rider counts.

Finally the bus arrived and we loaded up. There was two wheelchairs to get on which took forever. Apparently the drivers are still getting used to these Van Hool buses as the both the original driver and the new driver had a hard time figuring out how to work the wheelchair ramp. Then the new driver could not figure out how to get the bus to release the brakes, but after another UTA official showed her, we were off right behind a regular 35.

We had to leave a 3rd wheelchair bound person at Redwood Road due to lack of capacity and then they had all kinds of trouble getting the ramp down to let one of the wheelchairs off at Valley Fair Mall. We finally arrived at 4800 West about 10 to 15 minutes late having been passed by the regular 35 at Valley Fair Mall.

After eating the first bus to arrive was a regular 35 with an Orion V so I hopped that to Valley Fair Mall. Interesting is that there was more people on the regular 35 than on the 35M I took westbound. At Valley Fair Mall I noticed that a 35M was behind us so I jumped off the 35 and took the 35M. The bus had a much smaller load than the 35 and it ended up being the same driver I had the other direction.

We ended up behind the regular 35 all the way to 900 West. At that point the regular 35 made its jog over to UTA headquarters while we continued on our way. Just as we got off the bus the northbound TRAX train that is supposed to come 10 minutes after MAX arrives pulled into the station I head back to downtown changing over to the University train for my final destination at the library.

After my meeting I caught TRAX over to the Stadium TRAX station to catch the 220 back to Holladay.

Front Runner was everything that I expected it to be since I had ridden the same equipment in other cities. On the other hand MAX is still a work in progress. It would not be fair for me to evaluate the performance of the 35M yet until the road work on 35 South is done. Also the problems the drivers had will be fixed with familiarity with the odd ball equipment and brings up the final comments and that is on the Van Hool buses.

I have mentioned before about the problems with these buses and it was actually worse than expected.

-First of all, there is less padding on the seats than on a regular UTA bus or TRAX train. While they are padded better than the ex-VTA UTDC light rail cars that UTA bought or say a transit bus in Los Angeles, it is not saying much. I much rather ride in a regular UTA bus than one of these new Van Hool's.

-Second, because of the design of the bus and the third door seating capacity is lower. We already loose seats with low floor buses and these have even fewer seats. While the concept of MAX is that passengers will get to their destinations faster, the fact is that people may still be in the seats or standing for extended periods which makes the design inferior to other buses.

-Third, wheelchairs are more difficult to stow on these buses. Unlike all other UTA buses where the driver can easily secure the wheelchair through attached hooks, on the Van Hool buses the driver has to take the time to take them out of a locked bin, then attach them to the floor board of the bus. This bus is supposed to be faster but the design makes them slower.

-Finally, the engine is closer to the front of the bus than in a standard transit bus so engine noise is more pronounced throughout the bus.

All these combine to make the Van Hools a poor choice in a transit bus and it is no wonder why passengers fought hard in Oakland to get the order for more canceled. Hopefully UTA will look at these issues before buying more of these buses.

Once MAX is fully operational I will take another look at the operation and see how it was doing.


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1 comment:

Joa said...

Just FYI: All Van Hool buses are configured 'on demand'. If the UTA wanted 3 door buses, seats with less padding, the engine in the middle instead of in the back, etc. then that's what they got. This has been said over and over again on transit forums: unlike North American manufacturers who only have a limited number of models with fixed layouts Van Hool builds its buses as the customer wants them.

In this case you should address UTA and have them order different configurations in the future.