An earlier preview of double-deckers in Spokane

The Spokane Transit Authority will be purchasing a set of double-decker buses for use on the Cheney Line, one of its High Performance Transit routes set to begin service next year. A $2.95 million FTA grant awarded this week will help fund the purchase of up to seven coaches, which would enter service in 2023, replacing normal coaches that will temporarily be used on the route.

The Cheney Line is one of several “High Performance Transit” (HPT) projects that were funded by the STA Moving Forward ballot measure, which was passed on its second try in 2016. While the program’s centerpiece is the City Center Line, a BRT corridor set to open in 2022, the other projects will also bring major improvements for Spokane County commuters. Each HPT corridor will have frequent service with buses every 15 minutes during peak periods, enhanced bus stops, special branding, and other features that fit some characteristics of American-style BRT lite.

The Cheney Line in particular will share similarities with the long-haul Community Transit and Sound Transit Express commuter routes where double-deckers have been used over the past decade to great success. It will only have a handful of stops and operate primarily as an express service between Downtown Spokane and Cheney, home of Eastern Washington University. Two routes, 6 and 66, will combine to form 15-minute headways on a common trunk between the two hubs while also serving a new transit center at West Plains.

The project’s $13.47 million budget will be covered by a mix of STA Moving Forward funds as well as grants from the FTA and WSDOT.

29 Replies to “Spokane looks to use double-deckers for its next high-capacity corridor”

  1. Looks like a good choice, given the route. Relatively little time will be spent boarding and alighting, given the distance and handful of stops. Might as well make people comfortable by adding more seats.

    1. I work for CT and the number one complaint about the Double Tall’s (deckers) was the environmental controls (we had alot of complaints). The air vents blew directly onto customers, so they would either complain that it was too hot or too cold. Victoria BC had the same issue. And the EC controls are on auto, so it’s either an on/off but not temperature setting. The windows don’t open either. The complaints decreased significantly went deflectors were installed to redirect the air flow.

  2. I rode an ST double-decker bus once and the upper level was so short I had to stoop while walking to my seat, and it’s hard for me to walk while stopping. I’m 5’10” so near average height. It made me not want to ride a double-decker bus again, and to hope that if it’s on my route a lower-level seat will be available. How can the agencies buy these buses and say they’re a solution when the upper level is undersized? Why hasn’t there been more outcry over this?

    1. Low ceilings on double-decker buses are standard worldwide. I’ve ridden on them in London and Berlin, and I always had to stoop a bit (I’m 5’11”). It’s not ideal, but it’s just not possible to run 19′ tall buses…

    2. If the upper level ceiling is too low, you can always ride the lower level. But, as long as shorter people are willing to go to the upper level, you still get the capacity benefit.

      Studies have shown that being tall makes one appear like a leader, and offers a measurable monetary advantage in the workplace. Being tall quite likely contributed to the current president getting elected (picture the scenes of him towering over his opponents in debates, both in the primary and in the general election).

      It’s ok if, in this one thing, short people have the advantage for once.

      1. Careful, asdf2. Being short didn’t make anybody less afraid of either Napoleon, Stalin, or Hitler.

        History also tends to indicate how much the Kingdom’s tallest needed some of its shortest, usually wearing glasses, to figure out how to keep the books to pay for their war.

        Also, Chief of State you mention proves one thing. Being tall is less imposing if you’re constantly calling attention to the fact that you’re equally wide. Measured front to back, as well as side to side. And this is even before mileage-ruining, pavement-destroying tonnage is figured in.

        Seating for the average “Double-Tall” upper deck takes less agility than Uber or Lyfft. But if passenger load is a problem, no reason somebody can’t do a two-story artic. From Toronto to Quebec City, twenty years ago rode a locally made articulated highway coach that was not exactly “double deck,” but…..

        Think I recall that the bathroom was down a flight of stairs.

        Mark Dublin

    3. That is what I was getting at with that first comment. I’m six feet tall, but if I board in Cheney, I would just walk up to the top. The bus probably won’t move until I grab a seat, towards the back. I still have enough head room while sitting down. It is a while before I get to Spokane. I might have that back row all to myself, so I can stretch out (I might snooze for a little bit). When we reach Spokane, it takes a while to empty it all out and the driver is patient. There is some crouching involved, but it is no big deal.

      In contrast, consider a typical trip on the RapidRide E. I get on at 85th, and get off at 45th. I’m only on the bus for a few minutes. It might be crowded, so you want to maximize standing space. I don’t mind standing, since the trip is so short. At each stop, people are getting on and off — the bus driver doesn’t want to wait for someone who is slow (although they will, obviously). It is just a different dynamic with buses like these.

      Double-decker buses make sense for some runs, while articulated buses make sense for others.

    4. The upper levels are 5′ 7″, so many people will have to stoop while moving (hence why operators don’t want people moving when the bus is in motion). I’ve bumped my head a few times while riding, but the mild annoyance is well worth the comfort and views from the upper deck.

  3. I’m at the same height, a little taller maybe, but I’ve never found the low height of the upper level to be that much of a bother. Mind you, having lived in the Bay Area for 17 years, I never got many opportunities to ride Double-Decker buses, except when MUNI and AC Transit did demos of them, which I jumped on. Even in Seattle, I’ve only ridden them once since I’ve gotten over here. Keep in mind the height of the upper level is dictated by bridge/wire clearances.

  4. When CT started using double-deckers, rode them frequently to go see my client in Lynnwood. Made in Scotland. The drivers liked the way they handled. Unlike the average “artic”, they handled well in snow.

    Mark Dublin

  5. As one who works for CT, I’m a bit skeptical of Spokane’s choice. Here’s why:

    1) We implemented a strict no-standing policy in the stairwell and upper deck. We had some notable gruesome accidents involving customers falling down the stairs because the bus abruptly stopped/started (not many but enough to scare the jeebies outta of Risk Management). If Spokane were to have the same policy, this means customers have to remain seated until their stop, then get up and walk downstairs to exit. This would occur at every single stop. That’s alot of dwell-time for a BRT line.

    2) Our buses only have one stairwell. This configuration tunnels customers into a single pathway. When I visited London, theirs had two stairwells, which meant for more passenger movement and quicker exiting/boarding.

    3) The number one complaint about the Double Tall’s was the environmental controls. The air vents blew directly onto customers, so we had a deluge of complaints – especially in the winter – that it was either too hot or too cold. Regular commuters went as far as placing duct tape over the vents. It seems trivial but imagine sitting for 60-90 min on a bus twice a day that was freezing or suffocatingly hot (keep in mind these buses don’t have windows that open). So we ended up installing deflectors over the vents that redirected the air and complaints have significantly dropped.

    Our Double Tall’s are great for commuter routes because they hold the most people and work amazingly well in the snow. But on a BRT line making multiple stops? Spokane would have to address the above experiences in order for the Double Deckers to be effective.

    1. I believe this line is more like CT’s commuter routes, not really a BRT line. It will only have a handfull of stops at either end. It’s pretty much the perfect application for a double decker!

      1. Exactly. That is what I wrote in the first comment. There are only a few stops, with literally miles between stops.

    2. The 512 is like a BRT line. I went down before the bus stopped because I didn’t want to miss the stop if I couldn’t get to the door before it started moving again. It didn’t say it would wait, and if it really waits at 45th and 145th and Mountlake Terrace for one person at a time, that’s a lot of waiting.

      1. In my experience, the 512 usually waits. I’ve always been able to remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop at 45th. It helps that a lot of people get off there, I guess.

      2. The simplest solution would be a sign at the bottom of the stairs saying the upper level is 5’8″ high or whatever it is, so that people would know before they went up. That’s what parking lot entrances have.

      3. The 512 is like a BRT line.

        How so? There is no off-board payment. Stop spacing is huge. It is an express bus, which is similar to commuter rail. It can spend extra time at each stop because there are very few stops, and lots of time is spent between them.

        In contrast, a bus like the 7, with appropriate work, would be more like a metro. Over the course of a few miles it would have lots of stops (like subway lines from New York to Paris). Spending extra time at each stop would be a bad idea — costing most riders a lot of time, and the agency a lot of money. Few would benefit from the extra seating because most trips are for a short period (a few minutes, not a half hour).

        There is a trade-off to having a double-decker bus. It is appropriate for this route, just as it is for the 512.

      4. “The 512 is like a BRT line.”

        “How so?”

        It has several stops along a corridor like Stride or Swift. It would have stopped at Northgate if there were a way to get to it without a 10-minute detour. The first thing it should do to be more BRT-like is extend the frequent span. Off-board payment is a secondary issue. People travel because they want to get from point A to point B, so the first thing they need is for it to come soon and the second thing they need is to get there in a reasonable time. A 7 BRT would be good in its corridor but it’s too slow for people traveling between Seattle and Lynnwood; they need something like a 512 BRT. Short trips need a route like the 7, medium-sized trips need a route like the 512, and long trips need a point-to-point express. We should support all three levels; that’s called scalability.

      5. I think the double deckers are all equipped with cameras, allowing the bus driver to see if there are people on top or on the stairway trying to get off. If there are, of course, the bus driver will wait.

      6. So basically Mike, you are saying that the 512 is like BRT except without the off-board payment, the frequency, or the stop spacing. In other words, it is an express bus.

        I realize this is all semantics, but the concepts are important. BRT lines are supposed to work like metro lines or subway lines. They are supposed to stop often (like a subway), as a way to serve the contiguous, densely populated parts of the city. Of course there are times when a bus or train should skip a section. The line(s) out to Rockaway, in New York has a gap of over 3 miles — but that is because the trains are running in an uninhabited stretch. But when the trains are back in the main part of the city, they stop often. This is why off-board payment is important. All of these stops add up. In contrast, the Long Island Rail Road does not make many stops. It is a commuter rail line.

        The 512 is similar. There are miles between stops in densely populated or otherwise popular areas. Between downtown Seattle and downtown Everett, it stops only 7 times. It skips Northgate and Capitol Hill. It barely covers the U-District — riders have to walk a long ways to the heart of the U-District or the campus. I’m not saying I would do anything differently. I’m just saying that with those stops, it can’t be BRT, no matter how fast or frequent it is. It is an express bus (and a pretty good one).

        Put it this way. Imagine if it was a rail line. Would you call it a commuter rail, or a subway? It’s not even close — it would be commuter rail.

        Short trips need a route like the 7, medium-sized trips need a route like the 512, and long trips need a point-to-point express.

        So you are saying the 512 isn’t long? Seriously? It goes from Everett to Seattle. It is one of the longest bus lines in Puget Sound. Of course it stops along the way — that is the only way we can justify running the 512 as often as we do. Express buses can have more than two stops (that is why they call them limited stop express, not two-stop express). In all the cases, the bus stops along the way require a minimal amount of time to serve. That is because it is an express — the focus is on long distance riders. Otherwise, the bus would go spend more time in the U-District (and probably have better ridership per hour of service). But it doesn’t do that — it is an express.

        That’s what this is, by the way. It is about 17 miles from Cheney to downtown Spokane. This will make only two stops along the way, and both are close to the highway/freeway. It is an express.

      7. An express is like the 510, 545, or 577, or 594. The 512 and 522 are more like a limited-stop corridor route. I’d even put the 550 in that category: it has all those stops on Bellevue Way, and its pre-construction suite included Rainier. The only long nonstop segments are on the bridges where it obviously can’t stop.

        The 512 goes all the way to Everett but passengers take it to 45th, 145th, and Mountlake Terrace; and between 45th and Mountlake Terrace, between Lynnwood and Everett, etc. They can’t take the 510 because it bypasses them — a true express. The 512 stops at 45th, a large urban center where people can walk to the stop. It would stop at Northgate if it could, and it would stop closer to the Ave if it could. ST’s and Metro’s terminology doesn’t distinguish between limited-stop routes and point-to-point expresses, but they serve different roles in people’s lives. A 512 BRT may be a different kind of thing than a Rainier BRT, but it’s also different from a point-to-point express that has more than a few miles between stations and leapfrogs over urban centers to reach distant cities. The 512 stops in every sizeable community it can.

      8. The 510, 511 and 512 are all express buses. They all make limited stops. They are all focused on long distance trips. In contrast, if the E and Swift were combined (and had improvements to make them faster) they would be BRT.

        The 512 goes all the way to Everett but passengers take it to 45th, 145th, and Mountlake Terrace; and between 45th and Mountlake Terrace, between Lynnwood and Everett, etc. They can’t take the 510 because it bypasses them — a true express.

        They can’t take the 510 because it doesn’t run then! If it is noon, there is only one express bus from Everett available, the 512. Furthermore, peak direction, there is no 512! There is no “local”, and “express”, there are only different express buses, that run during different times. If it is 5:00 PM and I want to go from the UW to Everett, I have to take two buses. If the goal was to actually connect the UW with Everett, why would they eliminate it during the busiest part of the day?

        The simply answer is they wouldn’t. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to connect Everett and Lynnwood with downtown — a huge distance, and thus best served by express buses. Other stops on the 512 in Seattle are just added because they are easy to serve. They are off of the freeway. Holy cow, they used to serve 145th — a stop in the middle of nowhere — simply because it was easy to do so. It isn’t about connecting to those areas. It is about long distance trips, like Lynnwood to downtown Seattle, or Everett to downtown Seattle.

        That is the very nature of the bus routes. They are literally called express buses: ST Express.

      9. The 145th stop is closed? Good thing to know; I considered taking it to Twin Ponds Park today.

        I’m not interested in its peak-hour gaps; there are other ST and CT routes then. The 510 and 511 go to the stops in their areas, and there are CT routes between Everett and Lynnwood during the 512’s gaps. What I’m interested in is all-day service to the smaller stations between downtown and Lynnwood.

      10. The way the 512 splits into the 510 and 511 peak hours is a variation of the A/B stop pattern found around the world. The Chicago el did this for a while: one train would serve every other stop (the “A” stops); the next train would serve the other stops (the “B” stops). Caltrain peak hours has some trains going to the Palo Alto area and other trains to San Jose, so you have to get on the right train. When I was coming back from Vancouver BC on Cascades once, shortly before departure the train was found to be broken and non-moving. They hired ten charter buses and booked thirty hotel rooms. Those going to Edmonds or Seattle were put on one set of buses; those going to Everett or shorter were put on the other buses. This is similar to what the 510 and 511 do compared to the 512.

        The gaps between the 510/511 service and the 512 service; e.g., the 510/511 don’t stop at 45th peak direction; they don’t serve Lynnwood to Everett trips; they probably don’t stop at 145th at all — these can be explained by the fact that Community Transit serves the U-District at those times; the CT 201/202 are available between Everett and Lynnwood; and 145th is just at the bottom of the priorities. It also gets into ST not wanting to be duplicative of CT’s service or vice-versa, and the different overall goals of CT and ST. The 512 is affected by ST’s overall goals, and those are to connect downtown Seattle with Snohomish County, and not so much to serve 45th to Snohomish County or Lynnwood to Everett. Those are side benefits of the primary service. If it were all one agency, and if they looked properly at the 512 as a primary corridor and the others just as extras, then there wouldn’t be as many gaps in the total north-south service.

        The gaps are a minor flaw but other routes are available at those times, with the exception of 145th. I’m mainly interested in the baseline off-peak frequency because that’s what we have most of the time and the transit agencies tend to neglect off-peak service if you’re not watchful and vocal about it. Peak service takes care of itself because the agencies pay a lot of attention to it and ensure it has enough capacity.

      11. My point is that Sound Transit bus service to Everett is driven by the desire to get people from downtown Everett to downtown Seattle. Sound Transit bus service to Lynnwood is driven by the desire to go from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle. That’s it. Everything else is just a bonus. That’s why they are called express buses.

        That is why for example, there is no direct way to get from Everett to the U-District during rush hour. Not ST, not CT, not Everett Transit. If serving a stop like the U-District was a priority for Sound Transit, then they would. Ridership on the 512 would of course be much higher then, but through-riders would be delayed. It is only when the delay is minimal that the agency decides to serve those interim stops, in a desperate attempt at getting ridership. But that doesn’t mean that the 512 is not an express. Of course it is. If it was a regular bus, it would run during rush hour, providing stops along the way that are even more popular then.

        The 510/511/512 dynamic is interesting, and nothing like the examples you mentioned. Again, in cities that have express and local-stop trains, the local-stop trains run all the time (certainly during rush hour). That goes for subway (or metros) along with commuter rail lines. These are express buses, so there are different dynamics. It is very difficult to serve the UW during rush hour. There are no express lane exits. That is the main reason the buses run as they do. During rush hour, you have a couple choices: serve the stops along the way (good stops, like the U-District) or focus on the longer distance trips. They choose the latter (naturally) as these are all express buses.

        Outside of rush hour, the only reason they don’t skip those stops is because it is very cheap to serve them. It makes the agency money. On the 512, there are about 2,300 riders a day. About 400 of those riders get *off* before the bus leaves the city limits. That isn’t the goal of the bus. That is Metro’s responsibility. For a very minor cost in terms of time (getting off the freeway and then getting right back on) ST will gladly take those fares. That is true of Montlake Terrace (and even easier stop), Lynnwood, South Everett, and 145th (an easy stop, but with so few riders it barely pays for itself). Ash Way isn’t so easy, but it isn’t that hard, and again, it is about the money. Instead of running two express buses, they combine them. There is no way that ST could afford to run two express buses in the middle of the day. They can barely afford the one.

        These are express buses. Of course it is a judgement call, but a bus like the 512 that makes six stops (all along the freeway) for a thirty mile trip is of course an express bus, even though it isn’t the super express that is available during rush hour.

      12. “the local-stop trains run all the time (certainly during rush hour)”

        Not with A/B service. The A and B trains replace the local trains rush hour. That’s what makes it similar to the 510/511 replacing the 512.

        In any case, we are building Link in the 512’s corridor and it will have more stops and serve UW full time, so more like the mid-level service between local and express. The 512 is just an incomplete version of it.

    3. I live in Victoria BC, and we’ve had double-deckers for at least 10 years even on routes with many stops. I’m 6’3″ and have to walk hunched over to get to a seat upstairs, but really prefer the upper deck for the view, the quietness, and the lesser disturbance of people getting on and off.

      Can’t say I like using the stair when the bus is in motion, but if you time your movements for when the bus is stopped at a traffic signal or servicing a stop, you can be downstairs before your stop, which is encouraged. Having only one stair doesn’t seem to be a problem even on routes with high passenger turnover. Maybe it’s a Canadian politeness thing.

      1. Yeah, I think there were quite a few corridors in the Bay Area where I think DD’s could’ve worked. The single best example would be the Bridge Express services run by Golden Gate and AC Transit. But I’ve also felt that there a number of more urban and suburban routes where DD’s could work (like MUNI’s 18-46th Ave).

  6. And since Spokane’s in this discussion, as an interim measure ’til high-speed rail becomes real, the long overdue effort to convert the vertical parking lot called “Highway 2 Over Stevens’ Pass” to over-the road travel might bring Prevost back in the game. It’s Own Lane, Goes Without Sayin’!

    Mark Dublin

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