Adios bus stairs, here comes the “Low Rider.”
Bus riders in Los Angeles County will no longer have to climb stairs to board a Metro Bus on any of Metro’s 170 bus lines beginning August 30. That’s the date when Metro will be officially retiring its very last high-floor transit buses and replacing them with “low-floor” buses.
That’s a notable milestone in the history of local transit. High-floor buses were employed by transit operators since the inception of motorized transit buses and Metro, as well as its predecessor agencies, have operated high-floor buses for decades. Climbing steps to board a bus has been the common experience of multiple generations of bus riders.
“Los Angeles, as well as most of the world, has had high floor buses for well over 100 years,” said Richard Famighetti, maintenance operations manager for Metro Divisions 6 and 7. “We are marking the end of a significant era that helped characterize public transportation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Retiring these buses is a truly a historic change for Metro.”
(Video after the jump!)
High-floor buses were originally designed to accommodate fuel tanks, air tanks and other mechanical equipment that was located under the cabin floor. But this simple design had its limitations. It made it more challenging for some bus riders, including the elderly and those with physical disabilities, to climb aboard. The stairs ruled out public transit for passengers using wheelchairs altogether before the 1980s, when buses began being retrofitted with wheelchair lifts.
But the high floor, coupled with complicated and sometimes troublesome wheelchair lifts, created ongoing challenges for people using wheelchairs. The number of patrons who use wheelchairs on Metro buses continues to grow, helping spur needed accessibility improvements. Metro’s latest figures for July 2014, for example, show more than 2,800 customers who use wheelchairs boarded Metro buses every day. There were more than 88,000 wheelchair boardings for the entire month.
Transit bus technology has continued to mature. In the 1990s, for instance, Metro began the transition from diesel-fueled buses to those fueled with compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. Fuel tanks for these gaseous fuels weigh far less than their liquid fuel predecessors. That made it possible to place fuel tanks and other mechanical equipment on the roof of the bus, in turn also making it feasible to lower the cabin floor and eliminate the need for steps altogether. While liquefied natural gas buses were ultimately discontinued, Metro now operates the largest fleet of compressed natural gas buses in the nation, all of which employ a low-floor design.
These new buses with the latest accessibility technology have wider ramps and entry doors, as well as wider space at the fare box for better maneuvering for customers who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices or aids. The ramps are also less mechanically complex, and can be deployed easier and more quickly, a key improvement that speeds boarding and exiting times for everyone who rides Metro buses.