The “Bendy” Bus Has Arrived

Gwyneth K. Shaw PhotoNew buses are coming—with a lot more to offer than just better seats and and that new-bus smell.

Next week, CT Transit will start rolling out two kinds of new vehicles in the New Haven area. Some are environmentally-friendly hybrids; others are 60-foot-long “bendy buses” that can carry as many as 120 passengers and will be used to ease crowding on the busiest routes.

Forget the grimy belches of exhaust and the sticky seats of some of the existing buses. These shiny blue vehicles are sleek, with better lighting and lower ramps for the disabled. The hybrids are quieter, too.

The buses start hitting the road Monday. On Wednesday, CT Transit showed off the new vehicles at the agency’s garage on State Street in Hamden.

The New Haven area will get 14 of the 40-foot hybrid buses, and a dozen of the super-long vehicles known as “articulated” buses. They call them “bendy buses” in Britain, because an accordion-like midsection lets the bus wrap around a turn.

The bigger buses, which can carry 57 seated riders and as many as 63 standing passengers, will be used first on the busy B, D, J and O routes.

The hybrids, which seat 38 people, will be sprinkled throughout the system. Additional buses are being added in Waterbury and Hartford.

Ridership on the most crowded routes has been growing to the point where it’s imperative to add more service, said David Lee, CT Transit’s general manager (on the left in the picture above). Over the same period, the system has adopted newer buses that are lower to the ground and therefore make them more accessible to anyone with mobility problems—at the expense of seats.

There are two ways to solve the double-barreled problem, Lee said: more buses, or bigger vehicles. The articulated buses are the answer, he said, carrying more passengers but requiring only one driver.

The 60-foot buses cost $619,000 each; the hybrids run $560,000 apiece. A typical diesel bus costs $376,000.

“Even though it costs more to buy the buses, they’re more economical to operate,” Lee said.

The state was able to use federal economic stimulus dollars to fund most of the new vehicles. Much of the additional cost of the hybrid buses was covered by additional federal dollars aimed at encouraging public transit agencies to use greener technology, Lee said.

Transit officials said much of the extra cost for the hybrids will be recouped through lower fuel and maintenance costs as well.

Current buses get about four a half miles to the gallon, said Stephen Warren, CT Transit’s assistant general manager for maintenance services. The hybrids offer an improvement of roughly 25 percent, or almost a mile per gallon, Lee said.

“If you drive as many miles as we do, that’s a lot,” he said.

The hybrid buses work with a lithium ion battery pack that boosts the traditional combustion engine, which runs on the same biodiesel fuel as all newer CT Transit buses. Braking—something that buses do a lot—converts some of the engine’s energy back to the battery.

“It’s really a big [Toyota] Prius,” Warren said.

The hybrid buses also use LED lights, which are longer-lived, more reliable and more energy-efficient than the fluorescent lights on older buses. Those energy savings also help fuel economy, Warren said.

In addition, the hybrids are quieter than existing buses, he said, both for riders and for the people around them. 

Lee called the hybrid system “an ideal technology” for buses, since they stop so often. Hybrid engines generally get better gas mileage in traffic than they do in highway driving.

Drivers who will handle the new vehicles have gone through extensive training. But even though the articulated buses are often used in much bigger cities, the “bendy” part makes them almost as maneuverable as a regular bus, Lee said.

Like existing buses, the new machines are equipped with bicycle racks. Transit officials are pushing the environmentally-friendly message for both new buses—especially the hybrid, which is emblazoned with a bird in flight.

“These buses are 99 percent cleaner than the buses that were used when I entered this business, and about 50 percent cleaner than the buses used just a few years ago,” said Michael Sanders, transit administrator for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

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posted by: Nan Bartow on March 23, 2011  3:06pm

Hooray for New Haven!!!!

posted by: NH Resident on March 23, 2011  3:15pm

Saw a hybrid bus on the street in New Haven yesterday on my way home from work. Not sure if it was in service or not. I welcome the new addition to the CT Transit fleet. Good Call!

posted by: Jeffery on March 23, 2011  3:25pm

This is a very nice article.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference in anything.
It will, also, only be a matter of time before the seats are “sticky” again.

posted by: Dominik on March 23, 2011  3:34pm

Now if they only make real bus stops with an actual time table like in Europe.

posted by: robn on March 23, 2011  3:45pm

Potential Slogan….

GET BENT! Ride the Bus!

posted by: Atwater on March 23, 2011  4:02pm

Hate to burst the bubble here, but hybrids aren’t any more enviro friendly than normal fossil fuel autos and buses. When one compares the energy needed to produce, ship and maintain the vehicles (and all of its complex parts, i.e. batteries) it is equal to, if not greater than, the energy needed for non-hybrid types. Not to mention the minerals used for hybrid batteries are in short supply and, like oil, the nations who boast the greatest cache will face Western intervention and corruption. Look out Congo.
Also, nickel mining is very bad for the environment.
So, these buses might look nice, but they’re going to be just as dirty as the old ones. Not to mention just as dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

posted by: dont ride no more on March 23, 2011  4:11pm

Now if they can only get them to run on time !!!

posted by: anon on March 23, 2011  6:10pm

Great news! When I take the B bus, its usually standing room only. This will really help accommodate current riders and attract more. Thank you!

posted by: ??? on March 23, 2011  7:39pm

why can’t we get more buses rather than bigger buses? i would love to be able to regularly take the bus, but it’s a problem when waiting for the bus can take as long as 40 minutes (more for some routes, less for others.) To really get the bus system functional, we should aim for waits of 10 minutes and under. That might mean smaller buses, running more often. I understand that means more drivers, but I think that there are a lot of families living in and around New Haven that would be happy to be one-car rather than 2-car families if they knew they could count on the bus. 40 minute waits are too much for working families, so until that wait is reduced it’s not going to happen.

posted by: Gabriel Da Silva on March 23, 2011  11:08pm

I don’t ride the bus my self, (I work only 6 blocks from my house) but my children do, one problem I see on any of the stops is the lack of service schedule , map of the route on a specific color from start to end, final destination on the front of the bus does not tell you the route the bus takes through city. Nevertheless the addition of new buses is a great

posted by: Steve Brown on March 24, 2011  10:18am

My experience with my own friends and neighbors as that many New Haveners don’t realize how good of a transit system we really have.

Three legitimate complaints though: (1) Serious problems with schedule adherence (and I think operators and dispatchers are at least partly to blame); (2) Very poor dissemination of information, such as lack of schedules and maps at most stops (as others have pointed out), and schedules and maps that are unnecessarily difficult to read and understand (and I am a transportation professional); (3) Poor maintenance of bus stops, and total lack of snow removal from sidewalks/loading areas in the winter.

Longer buses are a great addition to the system’s most crowded routes. I’d really like to see the city take a greater interest in its transit system and work more closely with CT Transit.

posted by: anon on March 24, 2011  10:41am

I would dispute the notion that the current fleet can be described as suffering from “grimy belches of exhaust and sticky seats.”

Most CT Transit buses are very clean, inside and out. I’ve never really had a problem. Does Gwyneth K. Shaw actually ride the bus?

posted by: Anstress Farwell on March 24, 2011  3:17pm

I’m very happy for the bendy bus, though I agree with the comments that more frequent buses would be the best solution for riders. If people knew that a bus arrived every 10-12 minutes on the busiest routes (rather than the current average interval of 20 minutes), keeping track of the schedule would be a moot effort. Eventually, these busiest routes need to be converted to streetcars.

Regarding Gabriel’s comment on clear graphics—take a look at how Seoul does it:

It’s very important to have clear route signage on the side of the bus too. It would be so great if signage to aid riders replaced the ugly, tacky ads on outside. The ads block the view for riders and junk-up the whole landscape they pass through. It’s very ironic that most of the ads are for services catering the automobile drivers! (I’d mind small ads less on the inside, like on Metro North).