Coach 91501 on display at Union Station yesterday afternoon. (Photo by author)

This morning at Everett Station, the first of five new double-decker buses began regular service on Sound Transit Express routes. The double-decker buses, ordered in March 2014 for approximately $5 million and first proposed in November 2013, are identical to the second generation of Alexander Dennis Enviro500s that Community Transit debuted last month and will be operated by the agency’s drivers on contract with First Transit.

Measuring 42 feet long and 13 feet, 6 inches tall, the buses can seat 82 and accommodate some standees on the lower deck. The stairwell has a monitor with four camera feeds of the upper deck, allowing riders to know if there’s room upstairs. There’s a few backwards-facing seats at the back of the bottom deck over the wheel wells. Out front is a triple bike rack manufactured by Sportsworks.

The buses will be used on crowded runs of routes 510, 511 and 512, with some possible testing on other ST Express routes able to move forward once the full fleet is in service.

The first coach, numbered 91501, features a wrap around the upper deck with the hashtag #SeeingDoubleST, which is being used to promote the new buses.

60 Replies to “Sound Transit begins double-decker bus service in Snohomish County”

  1. The staffer I talked to at Union Station said as many as 125 passengers have been on a Community Transit double tall at once.

    He also said there would be triple-bike racks on all CT commuter buses, if they aren’t there already, and perhaps on CT local buses. Have you noticed the state of bike racks on CT buses?

    1. The new Double Talls have triple racks, at the very least. Swift buses also have the interior triple racks.

    2. Does triple racks mean three bikes? That’s what Metro has standard so I don’t see what the big deal is. Do ST Express and CT express have no bike racks at all?

    3. Don’t mean to hijack the topic, but notice that the new electrics have the newer “V” type bus racks and they work oh so much better than the ones (with the squiggle rack) used on most of the rest of the fleet. Why Sportworks thought it was a good idea to have racks that you activate by pushing in a button while you simultaneously pull out on the tire arm is beyond me. It’s really a terrible design. I don’t know if it’s so terrible because the racks are not maintained or it’s just a crappy design. I can’t count the number of times I’ve attempted to pull out the tire arm and and it gets stuck no matter what I do. I do know how to use the carrier racks.

      1. Sportworks discontinued that terrible rack–the Veloporter 3. I believe the rack on this bus is the Apex 3, which is the rack that ST and Metro are using on all new buses. Metro has indicated they want to replace all the crappy Veloporter racks on their fleet as funding allows but they probably have higher priorities.

  2. If I can nail down a time we can regularly expect to see this new beast on a Saturday 512 run, who would be up for a group ride? (Spoiler alert: There is a wrap around the upper windows, so if you want a clear view, either sit in those front four seats upstairs or wait for the second double tall to roll out.)

  3. In the future, I hope they can put the wraps in between the windows instead of on the windows. The ads ought to be more visible there, anyway.

    1. Brent, I wish the police and fire departments would just forbid those damned wraps over the windows- or look the other way when people scrape them off. Police officers coming on-scene can’t see most important thing to saving lives including theirs: anybody got a gun?

      Same for firemen and emergency techs. How many injured, how bad? Where exactly are the flames relative to victims?

      As a paying passenger, I think I’m being robbed of the best thing about riding the bus in this beautiful part of the world. I’,m paying to be able to look out those windows. If their purpose is a billboard- at least save my money by replacing the glass with metal panels.

      Yesterday I blew a big, damaging hole in my schedule rather than spending my ride trying to look through that mesh- worse disrespect than being in a prison van.

      I really think the only reason the transit system can get away with these things is the correct assessment that the average passenger spends their whole trip with their nose glued to a tiny electronic screen. Wish natural selection adapted faster, because otherwise reinstated pterodactyls or even giant hawks would soon remove creatures with this disability from our species.

      Also curious how much less revenue we’d take in if only metal was wrapped? On which point, I really resent public agencies, including transit, using wraps to advertise themselves. So tell me: how much would my fare have to go up to get my window back? Especially an expensive second-story one?

      Tell you what: charge me more for being able to see out the window. And mark schedules so I can choose. Either that or scraper amnesty. System’s choice.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Can’t disagree with you there, Mark. Was on a couple of trains in Phoenix last weekend after dark (similar Kinkisharyos to ours; maybe even a bit uglier if possible) and could not see anything outside, even at the stations, due to the wraps. Like our line they have the annoying scrolling information board and announcements telling you what the next station was, so that wasn’t a big deal. What was a bigger detail for a visitor was not being able to see a map of the line from a large area of each car and having no visual landmarks outside as clues. What was a bigger detail for everybody is having no idea if the station you were about to debark at was safe because you couldn’t see anything from the brightly lit cars out to the more dimly lit platforms.

        (Phoenix does seem to have good – and visible – security and the platforms never felt unsafe to me, but that might not be the case for others.)

      2. Thanks Mark. The wraps are wrong on so any levels. They wash the busses to have clean windows, but then wrap them in obscuring advertising. I’ve wondered about possible liability in case of an accident or civil violence, where potential witnesses are unable to report what happened because their view was obscured on purpose.

      3. Round up the whiners about the bus wraps, divide them into the $3/4 million per year ad revenue from full bus wraps, slap the surcharge onto their fares. Then watch the whiners evaporate. I bet they are from neighborhoods already well served by transit, and a view is just the icing they want on their cake.

        The wraps were brought back when service was drastically reduced to deal with budget shortfalls. Well, guess what, my neighborhood never got their service restored, so bring on the ad revenue until we can get our service back.

        If you want a view from your window, drive your car, Car-2-Go, Uber, Lyft, Taxi, trains, take a Greyhound or Bolt Bus and go on a tour. If that is your excuse for not taking public transportation, it is a trivial one.

      4. I’ll add: headaches and/or carsickness. One advantage: it provides shade in the summer when the ad is on the sunny side. With my luck, it’s usually on the shady side.

        Since the wraps are on the outside, you’ll have to pop the emergency lever and reach around, or try using an acid etch.

        Luckily the front window was still clear the one time I road a double tall. I got on at Jackson Street, and the other front seat was taken up by a family that also got on at the first stop.

      5. Also, all non-transit buses plus Sound Transit use window tinting, making it hard to see in from outside. If its a liability, it will affect a lot of carriers.

        A few years ago after an initial experiment with full wrap buses, they said they were going to compromise with half wrap buses. I thought: great! Top or bottom half? It turned out to be left or right half.

  4. What are the relative advantages of a double decker over a regular articulated bus? Now a double decker artic would make sense becuase that could be very high capacity… Has that ever been considered?

    1. Much of the advantage is maintenance: keeping an articulation joint in good repair is difficult and expensive. The lack of the middle space with the articulation walls also makes them a bit easier to clean.

      The shorter length makes them far easier to maneuver, and means you’re taking up less lane space – all while carrying a few more people than an articulated coach.

    2. It has been considered by Community Transit, and found to have several advantages. Among them:

      * More seats and room for more passengers. A standard artic has 56 seats. The double tall has 82. An artic can’t hold much more than 80 passengers behind the yellow line. As many as 125 passengers have fit into a CT double tall.

      * Less blocking of the box, at 42 feet, compared to the 60- and 70-footer artics. Similarly, they take up less space at the base and in mid-day storage.

      * More visibility.

      * Better views.

      * Lowest fuel consumption per passenger carried, according to the manufacturer. I don’t know if this claim considers electric trollies or bicycles.

      * Space between the window for more advertising. (Use that space before covering the windows, please.)

      1. Brent –

        All of the reasons CT lists above are reasonable but none are the root cause of why CT and ST have purchased double deckers.

        CT is space constrained on their two maintenance facilities, and as their commuter fleet has transitioned to an entirely artic-fleet, they were out of space.

        By switching to double deckers, they maintain similar capacity to the artics, but can physically fit more of them in their parking lots.

        Will Green –

        Would like to see some numbers regarding the maintenance of a double decker versus an articulated coach. Maintenance of the hinge has *never* been something I’ve seen cited, anywhere, as a reason to avoid purchasing and operating articulated coaches.

        I would posit that the replacement cost on that single piece front windshield, a design eschewed in North America primarily because of the enormous hassle in shipping and installing a piece of glass that big (as well as the actual purchase cost) could, as a single item, balance out the hinge maintenance cost. But without numbers, I can’t know if I’m right or not. My intuition and experience, however, tells me that I’m probably on the right path.

      1. Where’s their center-of-gravity? They might not jack-knife, but whenever I look at one I imagine it losing traction and tipping.

    3. Double Talls are great for the application for which ST and CT are using them: non-stop Park-N-Ride expresses to a fairly distant CBD. They’re not very good for frequent stop, frequent service because of the staircases. Yes, London and Hong Kong use them for those sorts of routes because they have almost no road space, but for American cities with our wide, straight car sewers, articulateds with three doors are better for BRT or heavily used FS routes. If they allow all-door boarding of course they’re even better.

    4. An articulated double-decker would be an engineering challenge, not so much for the left-right turning axis but for the up-down hinge that would require considerably greater movement between the rooflines of the bus’s segments, and is especially problematic for the floor of the upper deck.

      1. Tim,
        At that point, the need for capacity might be much more easily and cheaply met by simply adding a double decker passenger trailer. Whether that can be done with adequate safety, or without a conductor aboard, is another question.

    5. A couple of other things:

      An articulated isn’t easy to back up. It can be done, but isn’t easy.

      A double decker fits in the same stop area as a normal bus, which can be an issue when you have so much space available for stops. Portland’s transit mall had difficulty at times due to tight stop spacing when TriMet still had articulated buses.

      1. Great job finding these articulated double-deckers! It appears that they were produced only in very limited numbers (Jumbocruiser) or as a one-off example (Berkhof). And I still have to believe that serious problems would need to be dealt with in trying to use this design for typical urban mass transit uses and road and traffic conditions. The apparent lack of market success of these examples may have been due to unfavorable service issues that may have been encountered in their intended Euro-style cross-country applications.

      2. Intended market were coach tours between Germany/Benelux and Spain, some of the longest you could do without crossing the Iron Curtain, the Alps or the English channel. When France (effectively) prohibited such buses, this posed some problems for their main duty.

  5. What’s the head clearance on the upper deck of these buses? Due to North American road height limits, the bus height at 13′-6″ is a full 11″ shorter than the New Routemasters in London. Given the necessary under-carriage clearance, plus the thickness of the structure for both decks, I’d imagine that it’s got to be less than 6′

      1. Bluh. That’s pretty lousy for someone like me who’s 6′ and would want to sit on the upper deck to see the view.

  6. If the need for the double talls evaporates with the opening of Lynnwood Link, could ST start preparing Tacoma Dome Station and/or downtown Tacoma to accommodate them? CT might have a whole fleet of double talls to sell off at that point.

    1. I believe that Pierce Transit runs an all CNG fleet, while CT’s buses are Diesel, or Diesel-Electric Hybrid.

      1. PT only had an all-CNG local fleet for a couple of years in the mid-2000s. They began acquiring diesel-electric hybrid Gilligs in 2011 or so. After the explosion of their CNG compressor around the same time, they realized putting all their eggs in the CNG basket was not good. The ST fleet that PT operates has always been mostly diesel, except for the 2001 New Flyer C40LFs, which are supposed to replaced with Gillig CNG coaches soon.

        I’m not sure if you would be able to get a double-decker underneath the pedestrian bridge at the Tacoma Dome Station, which would be a big strike against acquiring them. The turnaround tunnel under Broadway Plaza would probably be a tight squeeze, too, but I think that will be phased out once the Commerce Street hub is eliminated.

        Kitsap Transit tested a double-decker over the summer and it got stuck under the overhang at the Bremerton Transportation Center. They had to let the air out of the tires in order to back it out.

      2. “once the Commerce Street hub is eliminated”

        The main transfer point in downtown Tacoma is changing? Is that what moving the Theater District station means?

      3. Yes, the long-term plan of PT is to eliminate the transit mall concept in the downtown routing. They’ve been gradually moving routes off Commerce for several years, beginning with the 28, which has its terminal at 11th & Pacific, and routes 1, 3, and 53, which has a 14th & Pacific terminal.

        The Commerce facility is over 20 years old and there are maintenance and security costs involved in keeping it going. Plus the city is interested in keeping more of the service oriented to Pacific Avenue.

      4. There is no “terminal” on Pacific Ave per-se, the routes in question either terminate on the street, and continue empty to either turn around or layover. In the case of the 28, it has its layover directly on the street. The 28 laying over at 11th and pacific is not a new thing, it did this for many years until the 2000s when it was routed into Commerce, and now has simply returned. The 11th and Pacific area is the historical (pre 1973-ish) hub for local transit in downtown Tacoma anyway. At that time (I cant remember offhand, but it was somewhere from 73-75) the buses were moved up to Commerce Street and remained there except for a couple of short stints on market street due to construction (Commerce Connections project in 1990, and LINK light Rail construction in 2001-2

    2. It does seem like a lot of money to spend for just eight years. But the 512 is standing room only and about to leave people behind if it isn’t doing so already, and the peak expresses are full and growing, so they have to do something.

      1. Looking at Metro’s replacement timeline, it seems that most buses last ~15 years, and Metro is pretty notorious for squeezing every last day of service out of their fleet. Eight years doesn’t seem so bad, and it’s not like they’d be totally useless after Lynnwood opens.

      2. I think the agencies plan for a 12 year bus lifetime. Didn’t Metro move that date out a few years to help deal with the revenue drop during the recession?

    3. I heard CT can’t operate the Double Decker (or the Double Tall as they put it) on certain routes because their Merrill Creek maintenance base can’t accommodate them. I’m not sure of the specifics. Would the same be true for PT’s base?

      1. An artic requires lifts that can pick up 3 axles, a double tall requires extra bay height, and possibly extra capacity on the lifts to pick it up. If your base cant handle it than it makes it difficult to use those vehicles effectively.

    4. There will be more demand to get people to Lynnwood Link Station. The arrival of Link trains doesn’t eliminate bus service, it simply concentrates it to feeding Link.

    1. Brent White mentioned above the following:

      Articulated: 56 / 82 including standees
      Double: 82 / 125 (most that a Double has held so far with CT. I have a feeling that was on the ‘Hawks Parade day).

      The Doubles seem like a win-win for ST. They are for CT, at least.

  7. I have some bus-obsessed kids who would dearly love to ride one of these. Are they likely to see service outside of the peak? Weekends or mid-day weekdays? We don’t want to displace commuters for a joyride. They’ve occasionally seen a double-decker on our travels and in books, but haven’t gotten to ride one yet.

    1. If they’re on the all-day routes you’ll see them mid-day. The CT double talls are unidirectional peak expresses so I’ve never had a chance to ride one.

    2. The only time I got to ride one was when I had Friday off when New Year’s was on a Saturday, and they were still running a regular weekday schedule.

    3. Michelle, I’m not sure where you’ll be coming from or how many kids you have, but I can tell you this: CT frequently uses the Double Talls on Route 402 and 413 & 415. Generally, the last few trips of these routes are less crowded than the height of the peak commute – morning or evening. If ST chooses to operate the Double Decker outside of the peak hour, then it would be on route 512.

      I’d check with ST customer service because the Double Deckers are new for them, and they should have a clear, predetermined schedule of which trips will operate them.

  8. Kathy, I wish I’d been able to put this response closer to your comment, because you’re leaving out some points I definitely addressed.

    Prove to me that the revenue from window-wraps-forget the ones on metal, either lost or saved anybody’s service in the face of the real problem: cheap taxpayers. Or how much advertising revenue could gained by wrapping every inch of both the courthouse and Metro headquarters on Jackson, from the sidewalk to the utilities on the roof.

    I also said plainly that I’d be glad to pay my share of enough of a fare increase to get my windows back. Would also be willing to pay more per ride on an un-window-wrapped bus- just so schedule indicates them so I can plan my trip.

    But mainly- pertinent and personal. Night-shift on the Route 7 through Rainier Valley, I frequently carried standing loads of high school kids given to fighting, destruction of company property and worst of all, harassing or attacking innocent passengers.

    And who’d beaten another driver into permanent brain-damage two weeks before I took over the self-same route and run.

    In one memorable incident, a fight at the back of the coach brought on a handgun-related quarrel at the front end. With plain-clothes police due to arrive on scene in several seconds. Meaning putting me inches from someone working overtime to make himself a target for a police bullet. I was as glad for every inch of clear window glass as the police were.

    Police coming on-scene need above all to be able to see a weapon. Firefighters must scope out distance between flames and victims. Since these people seldom use a whining tone of voice, I think that if first-responding departments literally laid down the law on this one, the advertising community would adjust itself, and the county would either offer its own walls and windows as I suggested, or buy billboards and media ads.

    Advertisers need the use of our buses as much as we need their money. And I also very much doubt how much the customers of the merchants who buy the ads would like a boycott directed at every one of them whose ads make by bus into a prison van. Social media make this logistically easy. And merchants along our routes whose advertising the bus wraps make invisible are natural allies of passengers who want to see the ads on THEIR windows.

    Mark Dublin

  9. And one more very important, and beneficial source of advertising revenue our system could use a lot more of: lighted advertising panels that turn shelter walls both pretty and also safer than current dark glass sheds.

    San Francisco uses these ads widely. If we’ve got any, we could use a lot more, for both safety and money. But would bet that there’s be some neighborhood resistance to both subject-matter and lighting that calls attention to the fact that buses do run through their neighborhoods.

    Further filling the ranks of people who need to “suck it up” and quit whining.

    Mark

    1. Thanks for the well thought out answer, Mark. I personally have no problem with bus or train wraps that do not obscure vision, for the reasons you address in your post. We also have transit agencies here who, for whatever reason, find it nearly impossible to sell advertising inside buses and trains where you see it in other cities.

      Also agree about the lit shelters with advertising seen in SF (and NY, London, Sydney, Singapore etc etc etc). They usually look pleasant, are relatively unobtrusive, and could certainly add an income stream as well as safer shelters to many neighborhoods and every important transfer point.

  10. At $1m doesn’t that make them ~1/4m more than a standard artic. I’m guessing they can’t be hybrids because you can’t put the battery packs and other electronics up on the roof. Of course that’s not a big deal for the mostly freeway driving they were purchased for. If they are full then they are cheaper at a cost per butt on the bus. The artics have more doors but the long “hallways” still take a long time to unload. At S. Kirkland the buses in the evening coming from Seattle have to unload and reboard about half a dozen people both front and rear to let other people out. It’s got to be a real cluster when someone trapped in the middle wants out at Montlake? Don’t know if it’s better or worse with the Double Tall but I’d guess that if they eliminate the need for standing room only (i.e. everyone gets a seat) then unloading is easier.

    1. London’s “New Routemaster” double deck buses are diesel-electric hybrids with a front, middle, and rear door (which can be left open for hop-on, hop-off like the classic Routemasters)

      1. rear door (which can be left open for hop-on, hop-off

        Ah, the things you can do with nationalized health care ;-) Where do they put all of the electronics? I’m guessing the resistor packs still have to be on the roof for cooling but maybe since they don’t have hills like Seattle they don’t need much extra capacity to “dump” power. Batteries on the roof don’t seem like they’d fly for clearance and center of gravity. So, if they’re able to pack all that into the chassis it seems like they should be able to do it on any bus.

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