OCEAN CITY – After hearing a list of issues that would come along with adding double decker buses to Ocean City’s fleet, the Transportation Commission voted this week to recommend the purchase of 60-foot articulating buses instead.
A few months ago, the Transportation Commission began discussions regarding new bus purchases to meet the goal of increasing capacity and lessening drivers due to the issue of filling bus driver positions.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins explained in Fiscal Year 2014 (FY 14), the Town of Ocean City was awarded a grant in the amount of $1,362,000 to purchase three, 40-foot diesel buses, and the same was awarded in FY 15 totaling $2,724,000 with a local match of 10 percent. The estimated cost for a 40-foot diesel bus is $425,000 that seats 35 with 18 standees. A 60-foot diesel artic bus is about $700,000 that seats 63 with 31 standees. The question arose if the left over funds from FY 14 can turn over to FY 15 to purchase artic buses instead as well as if the town could lease the artic buses for the summer months.
Last month Transportation Superintedent George Thornes stated
FY 14 funds can be rolled over to FY 15 to purchase two 60-foot artic buses but Thornes explained a five-year proposal should be formed for the MTA to plan into the future. Also, since there are only two artic bus manufacturers left in the country the option to lease artic buses is not in the picture.
Councilman Dennis Dare brought up the idea of adding double decker buses to Ocean City’s fleet.
“The concept of having more capacity and fewer drivers are the way we have to go. There is another alternative to the artic, I don’t know if it works for us or not, but there is a lot of modern double decker buses out there now where we wouldn’t have problem with the number of drivers…they are less expensive but the concern is the people on the second deck are not being monitored by the driver but then again they can’t monitor the back of the artic bus either,” Dare said at that time.
This week the Transportation Commission reconvened to come to a decision on bus purchases. Risk Manager Eric Langstrom, Police Captain Kevin Kirstein and Fleet Manager Ron Eckman voiced their opinion on double decker buses.
“Initially my concern is, if you have a double decker whether it is open or enclosed you have guests on the second floor and how are we going to monitor their action,” Langstrom said. “Also, there is the problem of ascending and descending the stairwells, and there would be the issue of people tripping and falling, etc.”
Langstrom furthered low hanging wires, the position of utility poles on corners where the double decker will be making turns and building overhangs on the transit stations would have to be reviewed.
“You can’t see people on the second floor of the double decker bus but you also can’t see people in the rear of a artic bus, but at least they’re all on one floor and the driver can hear and be aware of what is going on in the back,” he said. “In the years that we have had the artic buses, we haven’t had any major issues.”
Kirstein acknowledged there are pros to double decker buses, such as the capacity of passengers compared to the number of drivers.
“There is going to be a novelty factor that could increase ridership, and it would decrease over-crowding, which we believe causes some of the disorderly and assaulted behaviors,” he said. “On the con side, the bus driver would not be able to easily monitor the second level without diverting his attention from the driving. You could put a camera up there but still it’s distracting.”
Kirstein pointed out it would take hiring driver assistants to monitor the second floor.
“We would also recommend there are two different types — enclosed and open — and we would very much recommend against the open top because you can only imagine the behavior that would go on upstairs; bus surfing, jumping and throwing things,” he said.
According to Eckman, storing and servicing double decker buses at the Public Works Complex will be a challenge as the vehicle would just barley fit into the shop and could only be lifted 2.5 feet off the ground before hitting the ceiling. Other issues include training to service a double decker bus, fitting the vehicle under the awning at the present fuel station and towing in the event of a malfunction.
Councilman Tony DeLuca pointed out an artic’s capacity is 120 versus the capacity of a double decker is 83 as well as an artic costs $700,000 and a double decker costs $825,000.
“I think the artic is the way to go,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.
The remainder of the commission was in consensus.
“Double deckers are cool but I am over it, the facts are clear,” DeLuca said.
Knight made a motion to recommend to the council to have a RFP drafted for the purchase of three, 40-foot buses to be purchased by the FY14 grant and two artic buses to be purchased by FY15 grant funds. The commission voted unanimously to approve. The purchase would be on schedule to have those buses in service by summer 2016.