Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Revisiting stories: double deck buses as a modern solution for rebranding bus service for choice riders

As a child, I'm sure I had a Matchbox toy of the Routemaster bus.  Matchbox continues to produce copies of the current version of the bus.

For a long time, I've argued that one way to reposition and rebrand bus-based transit service would be to shift to double deck buses.

-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012
After all, the iconic Routemaster bus in London is an image known the world over.

In the early part of the last century, both double deck streetcars and buses were common in dense cities, even in New York City.

Megabus double deck bus on H Street NE, Washington, DC, on the way to Union StationMegabus double deck bus on H Street NE, Washington, DC, on the way to Union Station.

Today, double deck buses are used widely throughout the UK, not just in London, but not so much in North America, except in tourism applications and some high ridership inter-city bus routes, such as between DC and New York City.

According to the Wikipedia page, double deck buses are deployed in many European cities outside of the UK and Ireland, and in Asia, in particular Hong Kong.

In North America, for regular transit service, Ottawa, Ontario has the largest fleet of such buses, while the GOBus system in Ontario (GO = Government of Ontario) is the largest, with service dedicated to long distance commuting routes rather than inter-city transit like in Ottawa. 

A few double deck buses are deployed in various communities in the US, such as in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and Las Vegas, where Community Transit has the largest fleet providing commuter service between Snohomish County and Seattle.

The New York City Transit Museum still has one of the Yellow Coach double deck buses in its museum fleet.

Charlie shares with us an article ("Bus Stop Classics: 1934-38 Yellow Coach Model 720/735 “Double Decker” – the Queen of Fifth Avenue," CurbsideClassics) he came across about double deck bus service on Fifth Avenue in New York City. 

This particular article discusses the bus that was used on the route for about 20 years, until the mid-1950s.

The highly used bus line on Fifth Avenue is discussed in voluminous detail in this piece from the Coachbuilt website, and has many images of earlier double deck buses that had been in service on the route.

The Coachbuilt website focuses on companies that built "coaches," not just buses but limos, taxis, etc. For example, the geographical listing for Michigan has entries for more than 150 companies.

It's an incredibly voluminous site.  The author aims to produce a book titled the Encyclopedia of American Coachbuilders.
Vintage postcard showing double deck buses on Fifth Avenue in New York CIty
Vintage postcard showing double deck buses on Fifth Avenue in New York City

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At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've long been skeptical about the feasibility of double deckers on typical (terrible) US urban streets. Unless they had a good self-leveling suspension, the bobbing and swaying would have me barfing all over that upper deck. If getting riders to move to the back is challenging enough, how are you going to get them to move upstairs? The "modern solution for rebranding bus service for choice riders" is more buses, better frequency, more expresses, policing, better stops, reliable apps and predictability, faster loading and unloading. Any else is just lipstick on a pig.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't necessarily agree. If people were fully rational beings, then there is no question you are right, all you should have to do is provide:

more buses, better frequency, more expresses, policing, better stops, reliable apps and predictability, faster loading and unloading

While it's fair to say that in the US, we haven't cracked faster loading and unloading other than having free buses, all the other elements have been implemented in various places (although not systematically), and don't seem to result in significantly large increases in ridership.

(Of course the only way to really do pre-pay for faster loading and unloading is the way they do it with BRT in places like Curitiba and Bogota.)

For all the heralding of bus rapid transit services like the Orange Line in LA County or the HealthLine in Cleveland -- wrt the latter, many DC bus lines have higher ridership without any of the extras, and the Orange Line doesn't have ridership much greater than DC's 16th Street line (S bus).

Bus service is seen as a second rate service, for people who are poor. When it comes down to it, for choice riders, only those people who are rational choice types and where the service has the right time/cost benefits, will choice riders use it.

That's why I see a double deck bus as a better option.

And I can't believe that the roads, somehow, are markedly better in Europe or Asia.

If they are, then why not prioritize road improvements on priority transit corridors, given that buses move far more people per vehicle than cars.

That being said, there are differences in road quality that are substantive. E.g., I don't seem to be able to read on buses in DC--I get motion sickness. But I was able to read on Baltimore buses traveling the York Road corridor. What was it about those buses or the road that made it possible for me to read without getting sick?

At 3:13 AM, Blogger Delux Worldwide Transportation said...

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