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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2004

Proposed bus fixes insufficient

By Jared Kam

Hawai'i resident Jared D. Kam is a student at the University of Oregon.

Problems with the new low-floor vehicles go beyond the cures.

There's a lot to love about this latest shipment of new buses, but there are a lot of design flaws in these Gillig low-floor buses that are causing many complaints among both riders and bus drivers alike.

Although attempts are currently being made to correct the problems with the buses, illustrated in The Advertiser's May 6 article, "Bus fixes promised at no cost to city," there are a few more details that need to be addressed before these buses can be deemed acceptable.

First of all, the grab-bar height adjustment being made should be coordinated with Gillig, instead of being done solely by OTS. The stability and rigidity of these bars pose a liability threat if they are adjusted by the company, rather than the manufacturer. Riders would not like to see any incidents with grab rails falling, injuring not only standees, but those seated below.

Along these lines, I have also been told that it is impossible for drivers to see both levels inside of these buses with the current interior rear-view mirrors, which creates potential vulnerability to both the driver and passengers. A larger mirror would easily correct this problem, and this should be charged to Gillig as a design flaw as well.

The next major area that is being addressed is in the wheelchair area, with an adjustment in tie-downs and an increase in size, but where do you find an extra 5 inches, on both sides of the bus? Moreover, they are reserving the first set of forward-facing seats as additional seating for the elderly and handicapped, but are these areas going to be widened as well for easier accessibility for these people with special needs? They would definitely appreciate it, but then, how cramped will the rest of the seats be? Or will the bus hold four fewer passengers, making these buses good for only low-traffic routes?

The last area addressed is the idea of the narrow aisle, and I really would like to see how the manufacturer accomplishes this. There are other seating manufacturers that have better seat designs (USSC, for example), but there is no way to widen the aisles in any other way. The seats are pushed right up against the sidewalls, with no extra room to widen the center aisle. It's just impossible in this configuration.

In addition to the problems cited in the May 6 article, there is also one more area that needs to be addressed: the modified announcement system. This system is supposed to be integrated with the new radio and GPS system on-board, but the announcements are not programmed yet, making it even more difficult for riders to determine their location when they are already unable to see through the windows because of the design of the bus.

This low-floor design is not brand-new to TheBus. Not only is this same design implemented in the articulated fleet (though they are manufactured by a different company), but there are also three buses by Gillig that were used to test the new design (buses 366-368). These buses ran on very low-traffic routes, including the No. 5 to Manoa Valley, the No. 32 to Foster Village and the No. 18 from UH-Manoa to Ala Moana Center.

If the new shipment is considered bad, we should really feel sorry for the people who use those routes, because the older buses are even worse. The new fleet represents a second-generation low-floor bus for Gillig, and it has improved it greatly over the last model, including features such as an easy-to-operate wheelchair ramp and a larger, curved windshield that greatly helps visibility.

But wait a second — the company reverted back to Gillig's standard high-floor Phantom model after those three buses delivered back in the year 2000 because they were disliked by many operators.

There really haven't been any complaints about the design of the articulated models by New Flyer and they manufacture 40-foot low-floor models as well. They have been received well in high-traffic areas like Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. They were the first to pioneer the low-floor design and now have two 40-foot low-floor options for transit companies.

Maybe it's about time we give New Flyer a second look.