I took a ride out to Gresham on the #4 recently, just to take a ride about town. The bus serving the frequency I got on today was one of the new buses. I have an official complain about these new buses.
TriMet recently purchased three new types of vehicles; New Buses, New LRVs, and the WES DMUs. The DMUs are beautiful, very quiet, ride smoother than anything in the entire TriMet system, and as for ride, are just unmatched. The new LRVs are also smoother than any other LRV in use on the system, smoother than any bus ride also, and generally as comfortable as one would expect a public transit rail vehicle would be.
But the buses, where did TriMet get these buses? These things are already a complete catastrophe. I’ve had to get off of buses about 15 times the entire time I’ve been riding TriMet over the years. 3 of those occurrences have ALL BEEN IN THE LAST 3 MONTHS on NEW BUSES! What gives?
In addition to the issues just described, it appears these new buses are low quality inside, with fewer amenities than the last series of low floor buses. The inside rattle horribly when the bus accelerates up to speed. Now, I don’t know about everyone else, but I seem to notice buses accelerate and decelerate a LOT. This of course means the new buses are pretty much rattle all the time. This makes these new buses very frustrating to work on (which, buses generally are more frustrating to work on, but the new ones just have a +2 to frustrate now).
Transmissions, let me tell you about the transmissions on the new buses. Alright, one of the 3 broken down new buses I’ve been on broke down because of the transmission. But it isn’t the first new bus I had been on that had a massive kick during gear shifting. When a bus lurches that hard core, it isn’t uncomfortable, is is DANGEROUS. Those goofy old folks, or those silly young kids, that just stand up at whimsical times would easily be tossed into something. As any bus driver knows, there isn’t a lot of soft things to fall onto on a bus, which means the driver and the injured passenger are going to have a headache to deal with if a young kid or old fogies gets tossed onto the floor, metal pole, hard plastic seat, or some other hard spot on the bus.
So the new buses have all of these issues, but what really just ticks me off, is the nanny state nonsense with non-opening windows. I don’t care if some idiot stick their arm out the window and gets it torn completely off. What I care about is that I have enough responsibility and discipline to enjoy the wonderful breeze of a cool day while riding the bus. Why I should be punished by some punk idiot eludes me. Sure, maybe single plane windows are cheaper, but I don’t care about that either. Don’t order as many buses, but give me windows that open for the love of sensibleness.
I do have a shining bright spot in all this complaint. At least the new buses have amazing air conditioners! Not sure if that has been part of the problem in reliability, but at least THAT works.
I’m not sure what realistic solution TriMet could take with the situation as it is. If a regular citizen bought a car from Toyota, Ford, or even GM, they’d have the lemon law kick in by now and get their money back or a new car. Hell, most car dealers wouldn’t even deal with the lemon law, they just hand someone a new car before that mess even starts (emphasis on USUALLY, some resist – like GM & Ford of the past).
If I where in charge, I’d demand an immediate repair of every single new bus, transmission replacements, or even if it where necessary new buses that are designed differently.
So really, after all that ranting, is there even a possible solution to all this? I really don’t want to hear the rattling racket of these new buses for the next 15-20 years. Does TriMet have other options that are reasonable that could be completed in the next few months, years, or soon? My personal option is starting to look like it is time to move back to the ole’ streetcar route downtown. I’ve kind of wanted to get back closer in anyway, so this might be one of the catalysts to do so. Living downtown I rarely have to use any transit except the MAX, the streetcar being merely optional downtown.
Well, we shall see over the coming months. I’ll be riding the #9 for at least 6 more months. So TriMet ops, if you read this, please do me a favor and don’t put any new buses on the #9 route! 🙂 I’ll love ya for it (or buy ya a beer – feel free to contact me and name your beer)
The DMUs are "Nice" but as a passenger, far from quiet. Take a ride on the Sounder, Metrolink in LA, even Caltrains older equipment, because none of them have a revving motor underneath you that sounds like a humming subwoofer, WES is a fairly noisy ride. Rail will always be smoother. Run a bus on the newly paved 405, thats the only time a bus ride will be smooth, they are at the mercy of the roads here. I think we have more pot holes per sq ft of road than any other city (Ok, I dont know if that true, but were pretty far up the list). Ironically the 2900s are made by the same company that makes the 2000’s, 2200-2399, 2500-2830s (New Flyer). TriMet however orders the buses they way they like, i.e. non opening windows. Al has said that the buses are a bit different motor wise, but TriMet has failed to train anyone on them, leaving everyone puzzled, and the fend for themselves. And as Far as the new MAX cars, they are nice, but they more noisy as well. Its like a lot of things in this world, quantity over quality, and you get what you pay for, but in TriMet and their buses case, they seem to always take the low road.
The DMUs, I was only comparing to the other vehicles in TriMet’s current fleet. The commuter trains are by far better IMHO also. Even though, they’re not as quite as the majority of Amtrak’s fleet. Again, quantity over quality.
The new MAX cars are not louder than the older ones, I’ve run decimals in them twice – out of curiosity. Also ran vibration & g-load tests too – the device I had wasn’t precise enough to show a difference over the Type-4s and the older ones. Breaking however, does show a difference – the newer Type-4s have a major difference in G-load when breaking and jarring load compared to the older cars.
…and yeah, the buses are absolutely at the mercy of PDOT/ODOT for a smooth ride. Give em’ a smooth road, they’re smooth as ice. Give’em average roads, and the quality goes to crap. Give’em a bumpy road and get ready for the pain!
As for Portland’s potholes, I’d say it is in the top 30% of cities for good roads. Take a trip to a number of cities and they’re better, but then there are another couple that have roads that are easily worse than Portland’s – all with fewer options, fewer streets, etc.
But yeah, your core point that it is quantity over quality is a prime characteristic of a Government Services. TriMet is, functionally, a Government Service.
…great comment though, very good points.
Here in Salt Lake City, our new Gillig buses also rattle very bad. It seems that the quality of new buses are getting worse all the time. The first three times I rode our new Gillig’s one had bad brakes, the second had a non-functioning rear door, and the third kept shutting shutting down. Plus even in their first month of service they rattle worse that the 15 year old buses that they are replacing
I have been saying for several years that transit board members need to be forced to ride these buses on a regular bases and then maybe they would hold the bus manufacturers feet to the fire to build a better product.
Thx for the comment John D.
I doubt getting the members to ride the buses will change things. The only way the cities will get better buses is if they join together for large buys, and larger demands.
Currently the customer of transit isn’t in charge for two reasons; 1. the customer doesn’t pay full cost, which makes the customer a beggar and the political funders the masters and 2. the customer never gets to directly communicate with the builder. Without the multiple city organization I fear the only way we’d ever have any say in the vehicles is if transit became more independent of its political master, truly operationally sufficient, so that customers and companies could make legitimate demands with actual backing. The politicians will never do this because their motives aren’t aligned with doing so.
…but hey, I got hope – maybe we can get the blasted buses fixed.
Love this post!
Bus specifications are a problem because of monopsony. The single buyer, in this case, is the Federal Transit Administration.
The FTA doesn’t buy the buses directly and mete them out to transit agencies, but it details the process systems must use in order to receive capital funds to purchase new buses.
A new bus costs upwards of $400,000 apiece, so the FTA funds are almost a necessity. Also, bus makers don’t build small batches. They usually want at least 50 buses per order, so smaller agencies pool their resources to meet the minimum.
Purchasing departments in transit agencies will just go by the FTA specs, plus add the local needs such as an alternative fuel system.
What passengers like — and for what matter what drivers or mechanics like — don’t factor.
How was it done in the old days? By keeping things as simple as possible.
Believe it or not, GM used to know how to build vehicles. Buses, in particular, were GM’s strong suit. The buses weren’t built with the rider in mind, but GM certainly knew what its customers wanted. The buses were rock solid, very reliable and easy to maintain. You would see New Looks running on the roads for 20-30 years. Drivers and mechanics favored them.