Sound Transit's mock up of double deck bus
Sound Transit’s mock up of double deck bus

Sound Transit plans to add five double deck buses to its fleet in 2015, according to its fleet plan in the 2014 Draft SIP. Community Transit’s seventeen new Double Talls are also expected to enter service in 2015. It could be a coincidence or CT’s decision had an influence on ST’s future fleet plans since ST might be able to piggyback on CT’s bus contract.

While the SIP does not specify which routes those double deckers will run on, Sound Transit on its Twitter feed announced that the buses would run on all day routes in Snohomish County, where CT’s Double Talls are already a familiar sight to I-5 commuters. Community Transit is the only operator with the experience and capability to run and maintain double deck buses.

As a fan of double deck buses, I am excited to see more operators join the club. I wrote about the advantages of double deck buses compared to over-the-road commuter coaches but so far operators have been using them to replace articulated buses. Which leaves me wondering… how long until we start seeing double deck buses on urban routes?

66 Replies to “Ride the Double Tall Wave in 2015”

  1. I got to commute from Mountlake Terrace to downtown Seattle for several weeks while I was staying with friends up there, which led to my first ride on a CT Double Tall. As soon as I sat down in that front row, upper level seat and discovered the view and the lack of road noise, I was impressed. Such a quiet, smooth ride.

    1. sorry, that will not happen anytime soon, unless Pierce Transit embraces them. Pierce Transit maintenance facilities doesn’t even do artics (though Pierce did have ST artics early on in ST operations, but gave them up), and probably does not do double talls, since it would require a taller maintenance bay (and doors). Pierce (ST service wise) will concentrate on the MCI coaches instead.

      1. Also how do you fit them in the tunnel? You’d have to route all downtown destinations back up on the streets…in traffic.

      2. Only Metro and ST have access to the tunnel as Metro was the primary funder of the project. Note there are currently no CT+ST or PT+ST routes in the tunnel, and there is only one ST route: the 550.

      3. And that’s a bummer – I think the 590/592/594 would be a perfect candidate for tunnel service.

        It’s a gravy point, though, seeing as how capacity is already maxed out and the clock is still ticking on removal of buses from the tunnel…

      4. I wrote this elsewhere, but it was on a thread that no one was reading, so I’ll take my chances and ask again.

        Could it make sense for Metro to give the tunnel to Sound Transit early, in exchange for Sound Transit taking over Metro’s remaining regional express service (i.e. all the cross-lake routes, and express service between downtown, the U-District, and Northgate)?

        Metro benefits because they get to remove a lot of service hours from their network without actually reducing service. Sound Transit benefits because they get to make their service more efficient by using the tunnel, and they no longer have to negotiate with Metro for tunnel slots. It seems like it could be a win-win, if executed correctly.

      5. Ah, yeah! Metro wins on both sides.
        They don’t have to help pay for the costs associated with running the tunnel anymore, and
        They don’t have to gut cross lake routes, just give them away, and call it a win.
        ST would be foolish to take on anymore routes for anyone, unless at the end of a political pitchfork, and why tell you partner, Oh, that’s OK, let me get it… again, and again and …

      6. At the Overlake open house last night, a Sound Transit rep said that while he didn’t know any specifics (and wasn’t even on the regional express team), they would probably be changing routes somehow in response to Metro’s budget crisis. I’m not going to take this as a guarantee, but it means it’s at least on their radar.

      7. There would also have to be some reshuffling of equipment to make that work. ST doesn’t have enough hybrids to operate a tunnel-based 255 replacement in addition to its current tunnel service. (Contra my previous posts, I think it probably could make the 554 work, but then another southbound route would have to be kicked out.)

        But I think the principle is good — the Downtown-Kirkland and Bellevue-U District connections really would make more sense as part of the ST network and operated with a ST Express approach. Both the 255 and 271 as they stand today are odd “old Metro” holdovers that combine low-ridership local service with the high-ridership cross-lake connection.

      8. PT is supposed to get a few artics as part of an upcoming round of new ST coaches. In their strategic plan, PT has also talked about getting them for local Route 1 service, but I think the amount of square footage available at their base is an issue.

      9. David: The ST 255 would be surfaced, of course, since it doesn’t benefit from the tunnel infrastructure in any way, and all the other 520 service is on the surface. In its place might be the 522, which has less frequency than the 255, and so requires fewer hybrids. That would also consolidate all DT-Lake City service in the tunnel.

        As part of the deal, Metro could also agree to give some of its hybrids to Sound Transit. They would have the wrong interiors, but a fresh coat of paint couldn’t be all that expensive.

        To make room for the 554, the logical routes to kick out are the 101, 102, and 106, and maybe the 150 (unless part of the deal was to have ST take over express service between DT Seattle and Kent). That would create a common corridor for South King routes on the surface, and Eastside/I-90 routes in the tunnel.

  2. Isn’t this design completely incompatible with caternary?

    Hence, the only way to make them green is something like hydrogen fuel cells or natural gas.

    1. Now there is an idea – double-tall trolleybuses.

      I can see a few logistical hurdles, but nothing that can’t be achieved with a big dream and a bigger wallet…

      1. Just raise all of the wires. We’d somehow have to change out our entire fleet at once or we’d need to install really long poles on the existing fleet.

      2. Trolley wire might not be suitable for buses going 60mph. Additionally, the bus might be limited to the HOV lane as the wires would have to be run above the bus due to the lateral forces on the wire and poles at such a speed if the wires were to straddle 2 lanes.

      3. Community Transit,according to a post dated April 1, 2013, hahaha, is currently in negotiations for an articulated double tall which will be able to operate in the snow, and carry twice as many people. They will even have a conference room upstairs so you won’t miss those important business meetings while riding the bus.

    2. Double deck trolleybuses existed in the UK and double deck trams still ply the streets of Hong Kong, though I don’t think we’ll see either of those on our streets anytime soon.

      Hybrid diesel-electric versions of these buses exist which are somewhat greener than plain diesel.

  3. Hopefully, these will begin to introduce stricter boarding/de-boarding patterns: board at the front, leave from the back (with exceptions for special needs passengers and, in our case, people with bicycles). Every other city I’ve been to that uses double-talls works this way (most notably London, whose citizens have it down to a science), and it would be nice to see Seattle begin to actually enforce a policy they support (and technically have already deployed). I understand that it’s mildly cumbersome for the 60ft articulated buses, but waiting for people to exit out of the front wipes out some of the time saved by ORCA card usage.

    1. We wish this on every bus in the Northwest. Drives me crazy seeing someone get up from the back of a bendy bus, walk all the way to the front, exit out the front door, then proceed to turn and walk towards the back of the bus.

      When I lived in San Diego, MTS launched a huge month-long public campaign to encourage existing from the rear. This included huge signs at the front, stickers on the floor (not just the little whimpy one we have), and a message on the front and side exterior display. And by golly, it worked pretty darn well. I wish Metro, ST, etc had the guts to do the same here.

      1. It’s a particular pain when the bus is really full, and everyone standing in the aisle has to make way for the idiots. Of course, it would be a big help if the drivers would open the back doors.

      2. +1 Mike. When they announced the new policy, I expected some enforcement from drivers, as well as audio messages. Nothing, just the little stickers on the ceiling and on the doors.

      3. +1. Metro’s unwillingness to try and shape behavior is another abdication of leadership by management.

        There was a glorious two-week interval after the Sep ’12 shakeup where operators regularly used to the “please exit by the back” audio PSA, then all that stopped.

      4. I don’t understand people who sit far back, exit in the front, and walk back. Seems like a waste of shoe leather. But I’m going to argue for some flexibility in door choice.

        Precisely due to drivers who don’t always open the back doors, there is incentive to sit in front and plan to get off in front. I have been nearly trapped in the back of the bus, needing to deboard, and not being able to shout loudly enough to get the driver to open the door. It is a fantastically harrowing experience. The solution is to create vibrations through the bus and not just the air, run to the front door, and exit there anyway, or count on fellow passengers to amplify (not reliable).

        It would help if there were a button at the back door that signaled to the driver that there is someone trying to deboard. Otherwise, faster that I sit at the front by the door that is always opened.

        Even without being trapped, leaving through the front door really can be faster. Namely, when no one is trying to get on at the stop, when there are comparatively fewer people standing in the aisle between the deboarding passenger and the front door, when the passenger is sitting way up front and has planned to exit at the front.

        Finally, “special needs” aren’t always obvious. What if a young and otherwise fit-looking person has a bad knee? Wearing high heels?

        What we want is everyone is to be considerate and efficient. This doesn’t always mean imposing such a coarsegrained rule as “always use the back door.”

      5. I second what z7 says. I ride from Pioneer Sq to Convention place daily on my way home, and if I’m on a 7x they routinely fill up to SRO by Westlake. The times I went to the back, I’d say 40% of the time they failed to open the rear door at Convention Place. Not a lot of people get off the bus there, so I guess the drivers don’t expect it. So I’m left with screaming, and if that doesn’t work, plowing my way through folks to get off.
        The last time it happened, the driver was pulling away before I got to the front, and he had to stop a second time so I could de-board.
        Now I sit up front. Much easier. Stinks for efficiency and everyone else, but if they’re not going to routinely open the back door, then what choice do I have?

      6. I wish everyone would exit in the back too, and I try to do so, but it’s hard on the articulated buses where you’re sitting near the front and the back door is way far back behind the articulation. It works better in three-door buses. Problems with walking to the back: (1) you’re carrying heavy bags, (2) keeping your balance walking through the articulation with a backpack while the bus is moving, (3) people standing in the aisle behind you, (4) your seatmate gets up to let you out and always stands behind the seat rather than in front, (5) you feel like an idiot because you’re the only one going to the back door, (6) you have to leave your seat earlier to get to the back door before the bus stops (so you’re not making people wait for you), it’s earlier than most people are used to doing.

        I see back door policies working well in other cities like Chicago and San Francisco, but there’s something about their buses that make it easier. I’m pretty sure it’s because their buses are either non-articulated or have a door more in the middle, because I’ve never had to walk as far back on those buses as I do on Metro, or stumble into people as I’m walking across the articulation without an overhead railing within reach.

      7. There IS a button near the back door, but it has the same effect as the pull-cords. Metro should make it clear that any driver who doesn’t open the back door every time the bell is rung, except when there’s a real risk of a deluge of people trying to enter there, can and should be reported.

      8. @Mike: In Chicago (as of last time I was there on a bus, which was a few years ago now) the newer buses have back doors with buttons on the door, that passengers getting off touch. Chicago and SF also have fewer artics on the core urban network than Seattle — I believe Seattle’s artic-heavy fleet is unique (or nearly so), because few other cities with our transit capacity demands have gone without urban rail for so long.

      9. @Morgan

        Yes — that button is great for signaling a stop, but I also don’t want to inappropriately signal a stop for the following stop to tell the driver to open the back door. It also isn’t repeatable — after the first time, it doesn’t make a sound.


        You can shape behavior by a PSA, or you can shape behavior by infrastructure. As Mike says, walking to the back of the bus is nontrivial, and trying to be the good guy getting off at the back carries some uncertainty.

        This actually looks like a subproblem of “getting people to move to the back of the bus.” People would be a ton more willing to move back if there were better handholds through the articulated area. Some buses have straps from the ceiling there, but tell that to someone 5’2” or carrying a parcel. He’s already on the bus; what does he care that people in the rain outside are getting passed up due to his non-movement?

        I also think people would be willing to stand more densely if the vertical poles had a separation (e.g. stop button) so that people could be confident they wouldn’t accidentally touch a stranger’s hand by gripping the same pole. Moreover, people standing in the aisle would be sure they could call a stop without having to excuse themselves and reach over a stranger’s body to pull the cord by the window.

        Does Metro ever A/B test hunches like these?

      10. My understanding is that there is an automatic mechanism in place so that opening the back door locks the brakes, but opening the front door does not. Makes sense because the driver has a much clearer view of the front door than the back door. Practically speaking, what this means is that if only one person near the front is getting off and no one is getting on, the driver can start moving a few seconds sooner if the back door never opens.

        If the bus is crowded (as in people standing near the back door), I think the driver pretty much has to open the back door every time a stop is requested, no matter what. But if the bus is not so crowded, it is perfectly reasonable for the driver to look around and see if anyone is actually using the back door before opening it.

      11. asdf, that’s correct. If no one actually wants to use the back door it can save five to ten seconds to avoid it. There are also other reasons for not opening the back door, although in that case it’s incumbent on the driver to announce “Please use the front door” over the PA whenever he/she figures out that’s necessary. Drivers should be very careful about watching for people at the back door, but they are human and will mess up sometimes. No need to get them in trouble with the chief unless they are rude or display a flagrant disregard for safety.

      12. The translink buses all use a system where the passengers open the back door by touching the handle. Used to be you had to actually push the handle a bit, but now you just touch it. I can’t remember when Vancouver got better about the back door thing – and there was definitely a time when people use the front door to exit – the switch to passenger controlled doors might have been it. I think that the driver has to arm these doors before they respond, and it does seem like the brakes are engaged when they open.

      13. On the older articulated busses it can be hard to exit at the back door if you’re sitting in the front of the bus. There’s nothing to hold on to in the articulated section and I feel quite uneasy about walking even three or four steps on a moving bus without being able to hold on. The newer articulated buses have solved this problem, I think.

    2. Unfortunately, I think a lot of damage was done in the first weeks of the policy change that is burned in people’s mind. If drivers had been very good about opening the back door, I think people would have tried and stuck with that behavior. But a lot of drivers did not change quickly enough, and people learned that they can’t trust the back door will be opened. Even though it seems to be better now, riders won’t change their behavior again so easily.

  4. I’m fully in favor of double-talls in the city. But trolleybus wires. And our low-hung stop lights. Let’s bring this up again once we have a real budget.

    1. Don’t we have better things to spend money on than raising trolleybus wires and stop lights to accommodate double decker buses in the city?

  5. I hope they replace all of the coaches with these. As someone that visits Seattle on occasion, and has used the coaches between Seatac and Tacoma, it seems like a huge waste to run massive coaches on commuter routes. We were also delayed for about 10 minutes on our route because of the wheelchair lift.

      1. As a wheelchair user who has ridden on many types of transit I can attest that low-floor double deckers can solve this problem.

        Coaches are by their very nature high-floor vehicles, due to the underneath luggage compartments, and generally have rear instead of front loading lifts. Because of the rear loading, the driver has to get out of his seat to first go to the back to physically move seats out of the wheelchair space, exit via the only door at the front, then go back to the back of the bus on the outside to operate the lift. Nearly all of this can be accomplished on a low-floor double decker without requiring the driver go more than a few feet from his seat.

        All the CT double-deckers I believe are low-floor, and thus only require the flip-out ramp at the front, rather than a full-blown, time consuming wheelchair lift.

  6. Thanks for Tunnel interest, John. I’ve been trying for several years to get hybrid “artics” on the Lynnwood and Everett routes in there for years. It would save up to fifteen minutes between Olive and Sixth and I-5.

    Double talls said to be good in snow. Love view from upstairs- but truly hate seeing upper level windows covered with wraps. Especially ticked to see a lot of CT’s wraps simply advertising double tall buses. With the scenery out here, doing this is a crime against God that could get us a ‘quake a hundred years early.

    Lack of citizen protest, including scraping the damn wraps off with a razor, sadly indicates that most people spend whole ride looking at ipod or ipad screens.


    1. If Snohomish County ponied up the bucks back in the 1980’s and 1990’s to help build it, then they’d have access to the Tunnel. Call it petty in light of today’s needs, but blame those to the north for their shortsightedness.

      1. It’s kind of immaterial, as the tunnel is maxed out in the peak, and the vast majority of CT service into Seattle is peak.

      2. The DSTT was never intended for Snoho. It was a King County project to give access to the three sides of King County (north, east, and south).

  7. Our current system is sometimes strained for curb capacity on 3rd Ave. I notice this northbound at 3rd/Pine, where if 3 buses arrive in a line the third has to wait behind the Pine St light, missing at least one light cycle. This is especially bad if the bus in front is a 358. It would be interesting to study their use there — would tall buses add boarding/exiting delays on routes like the 358 (a long, crowded route with lots of popular stops) compared to existing artics? Would they fit under all the trolley wire? Would they allow 3 buses at once to stop at 3rd/Pine and similar zones? Would that even be allowed?

    1. That is the best argument for the use of double-deckers on city routes. Being able to fit 3 high-capacity buses at the shorter zones on 3rd Avenue would make a meaningful difference during PM peak.

      There could be overhead clearance issues for them at some downtown intersections if they were to travel east-west, though. They would have to be carefully tested on routes like the 12 and the 3/4 (or preemptively banned from such routes, a flexibility-reducing move) before entering Metro service.

  8. I would love to see these on the 522 someday.

    I’m curious, are double deck buses more effective at attracting choice riders than articulated buses? If so, to what degree?

    1. Unfortunately, the Lake City Way exit from I-5 is too short for the Double-Talls to fit under.

      Now in ten years or so, if we truncate it at Roosevelt Station…

  9. Double deckers are great for long freeway routes with no stops like CT operates, but would be a miserable failure in a city environment with multiple stops. You would increase the dwell time at every stop considerably. That is why artics are the better choice on urban routes. Metro operates very few routes like this.

    Double deckers are relegated to Second and Fourth because there are no trolley wires there, so they also wouldn’t work on Third.

    Finally, if you want more rail sooner, you want ST to get out of the bus business where they spend dollars everyday on operations. The less buses ST operates, the more money they have to bond to build rail. ST got into the bus business to demonstrate immediate value to the taxpayer while rail was being built. As soon as East Link and Lynnwood Link open, ST should return King County only routes to Metro. And CT will likely not be using double deckers then either, because they will not be running buses into Seattle when rail is faster and more efficient.

      1. It wouldn’t surprise me if London adopted double-deckers before artics were invented, and keeps them due to inertia, curb space limitations, traffic and turning considerations, etc.

        London’s experience at least proves that the double-deckers aren’t a disaster in urban environments, and I think an attempt to study boarding/exiting performance given the loads and turnover we have here would be interesting. I’d volunteer for that study (study description is like… show up with a few hundred volunteers at Lynnwood TC on a Saturday, mark off a street grid in the parking lot, and test station dwell times, sitting comfort, standing comfort, and capacity through accelerations, stops, and turns around the P&R loop and in the parking lot, at various levels of load on various bus models and seating arrangements).

    1. I would agree that artics were clearly better on urban routes if Metro was willing to buy more of them with three doors. A two door artic vs a decker might really be a wash in terms of loading/unloading times, particularly on the urban routes that are often SRO.

      Also, it is my understanding that the Metro specs for the trolley system were purposefully designed not prohibit running double deckers on streets with wire. There aren’t any non-metro services on third, so just because CT isn’t running deckers there doesn’t mean that there is a conflict. Rather, it seems that the stops on 2nd, 4th and 5th are designated as the stops for other agencies and therefore CT’s deckers run on those streets.

    2. Also, there *are* trolley wires on 2nd, *and* there are trolley wires on many of the streets that buses cross when going down 4th and 5th.

    3. Even for long-haul freeway routes, dwell time at bus stops still matters. Consider that the 594 spends about as much time getting from Belltown to SODO every trip as it does to get from SODO all the way down to Tacoma.

  10. Another point an enviro friend who commutes on CT double deckers mentioned to me is that the double deckers are hell on street trees. She says as they come down Fourth it is bam, scrape, scratch.

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