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Big-city feel to bendy bus

Articulated unit hits streets to glowing reviews

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Winnipeg Transit's articulated buses, purchased from Ottawa and refurbished here, were bargains at $53,000 each.

PHOTOS BY PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Transit's articulated buses, purchased from Ottawa and refurbished here, were bargains at $53,000 each. Photo Store

The best part? Everyone got a seat.

Transit riders on the No. 54 St. Vital Express were in for a surprise Monday afternoon.

One of the city's articulated "bendy" buses made its debut, picking up the first bus riders just before 4 p.m., eastbound on Portage Avenue at Langside Street.

There were the obvious comparisons to other cities -- that Winnipeg was a big city now, like Toronto, Ottawa and countless American cities that have big buses and subways.

The biggest practical difference was everybody got a seat on a rush-hour bus.

Typically it's standing room only by the time the 54 Express makes the turn from Portage Avenue onto Main Street for the long run down St. Mary's Road into St. Vital.

"That's pretty cool, first time on an articulated bus," said Jonathan Kos as he cast his gaze around the nearly empty bus.

As one of the first passengers, along with a gaggle of university students, Kos and the kids were the first to get a good look inside.

"I kept walking. I was so surprised, I just kept walking" past the fare box, University of Winnipeg student Kayla Goossen said. Her companion, Trevor Thomson, nodded beside her.

Skipping the fare isn't something Goossen does.

Later, the bus driver said he remembered the young student with the long hair. "Yeah, I called her (back)," he said. Goossen returned quickly to drop in her fare.

"I really like the length of it, and you didn't really see it when it pulled up, how long it was. It's like two buses," Thomson said.

From the outside, lots of riders missed the fact the articulated bus is 20 metres long (60 feet) compared with a regular 13-metre (40-foot) transit bus.

Inside, there was an initial disorienting split second before the eyes adjusted to the new reality, to take in the depth and the long walk back. And to count the three doors, instead of just two on regular buses.

And so it went for just about everyone. "I just walked in with the (lineup)," chuckled Ron Ferguson. "No, didn't notice, not until I looked up," he said.

Articulated buses have been spotted around the city in the last few weeks in a training role, but a city spokeswoman said the Monday-evening rush-hour run was the first time one of the vehicles had ferried passengers.

Winnipeg Transit purchased 20 articulated buses that had been used in Ottawa previously. The vehicles were refurbished by New Flyer Industries, the manufacturer. The second-hand buses were a steal of a deal. Transit picked them up for far less than their new cost, which would have been $625,000 each. Winnipeg's price per bus came to $53,000 (plus GST), roughly the cost of a fully loaded pickup, plus $11,500 each for refurbishment.

Winnipeg Transit will slowly integrate the vehicles, which can carry 40 per cent more passengers than a regular transit bus.

The first of the new bendy buses arrived before Remembrance Day and were expected to be on city streets weeks earlier, but refurbishing at New Flyer, followed by tweaks by Winnipeg Transit to refit the refurbished buses to match the city's code, took some extra time.

In November, Transit Tom picked four routes for the initial passenger runs: Routes 36, 54, 58 and 59, for their high-traffic routes through the St. Vital and Maples areas. The No. 54 Monday was the express from downtown to deep St. Vital.

Bus driver Eric Genereux said it took him about half an hour to adjust to the extra space and the gentle accordion swing in the ride.

"It feels a lot like a regular 40-foot bus," the transit driver said. "It's a longer bus, that's the difference, I guess. I've got 60 feet to pay attention to on either side and the third door."

It's the riders who notice it more: "They all love the added space," the driver said.

More than one passenger compared the bendy bus to a transit status symbol, rolling proof the gateway to the Prairies had graduated to a grown-up metropolis.

Spin seats at the articulated middle spin gently as the bus makes a turn. Sitting there, passengers don't feel much of anything. But the swing looks cool and playful from other seats.

That said, it's no surprise to learn the accordion middle widens and swings far less than, say, the 90-degree turn the bus makes on the street.

"There are things to watch. It's like a regular 40-foot bus only it's 60 feet long. It's not the bus driver who does the work, it's the articulated (middle) that's got to work," Transit official Carlos Fernandes said.

He said the bus design, with wheels on either side of the accordion middle, is what keeps the bus on track.

Toronto, Montreal and Halifax already use articulated buses.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014 A5

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