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Double decker bus a hit with RTC riders, a mixed bag with drivers

By Carla O'Day
Published: Last Updated on

The demonstration of a double decker bus drew much fanfare among riders, but garnered both positive and negative comments from drivers and administrators at the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County.

Keolis Transit partnered with RTC to conduct a pilot test of an Alexander Dennis double decker bus in December 2019 on the RAPID Lincoln Line that serves the Prater Way and Fourth Street corridor, Regional Connector between Reno and Carson City, and on Routes 5 (Sutro/Sun Valley), 7 (Stead) and 12 (Terminal/Neil). Virginia Street wasn’t used because of construction.

On a 1-to-5 scale of poor to excellent, the bus rated 4.7 from the 158 riders who took the survey between Dec. 6-20. Written feedback included dozens of comments, such as, “I love the seats,” and “very good ride.”

RTC drivers indicated they liked driving the bus, noting it was easy to handle, was a smooth ride and turned well.

David Carr, RTC facilities and fleet manager, said challenges involve the double decker being too tall for the bus wash and fuel bay, drivers having to watch for overhead clearances that include snow-laden tree branches, and drivers being unable to see what’s going on upstairs. Carr said there are cameras, but drivers spend their time watching the road.

While the upper deck was a hit with riders who used it, Carr said the stairwell is narrow to the point it only accommodates people climbing in one direction. People carrying heavy items, those with disabilities, and some who were concerned with missing their stops opted not to use the upper deck, Carr said.

About one-half the passengers surveyed used the second level, which also meant an additional 11 seconds per stop. The bus has a roof and has met federal safety standards for transit. It’s not an open-air tourist bus.

“Due to delays with boarding and loading of the bus, we might need an extra bus, so instead of doing this with eight or ten buses, we might need nine or 11 buses depending on how routes are configured,” Carr told RTC board members Friday. “That additional time, even though it’s not very much time, over the course of a day with a number of stops and larger number of passengers, it can require us to have more equipment.”

Carr said the 13 1/2 foot buses cost about $1.5 million apiece and cost about 57 cents per mile to operate. By comparison, current buses used by RTC cost about $800,000 each and cost between 40 and 49 cents per mile to operate.

An all-electric version of the Alexander Dennis double decker will be available next year and would better align with the agency’s goals for alternatively-fueled and more sustainable vehicles, according to RTC.

Several RTC board members said it’s not feasible to buy an entire fleet of double deckers, although Reno Councilwoman Neoma Jardon said it could be an option for the Virginia Street route and might be popular with tourists. That route includes the University of Nevada, Reno, downtown, Midtown, Reno-Sparks Convention Center and Meadowood Mall.

“If you provide it, rather than waiting for it, you might find more people will use it, simply because of the style and what it represents,” Jardon said.

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