Metro 65 Foot Bus via Flickr User L.A. Urban Soul
In doing some research looking for the bills that allowed the original change from 60 to 65 feet, I found a few strange things including no record of a bill passing that would allow for 65 foot buses. SB 650, which was the original legislation, reached a third reading and was vetoed by then Governor Schwarzenegger. But by veto time, the subject of 650 had changed.
The California Vehicle Code still says that articulate buses have a limit of 60 feet but according to the MTA, "Metro has been granted an exemption from Caltrans to permit operation of the 65-foot vehicle exclusively on the Orange Line transitway."
So they finally passed the bill to make 82 feet totally legal, without exemptions, and with 17 extra feet.
This bill would authorize the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to operate articulated buses that do not exceed a length of 82 feet on the route designated as the Orange Line in the County of Los Angeles. The bill would require the authority to establish a route review committee prior to operation of those buses, as specified...The question is, why wasn't it legal before? And why an arbitrary length such as 82 feet? Well 82 feet equals 25 meters. So it seems as if it's cluing off of international standards. But then there are 30 meter (over 100 foot) buses used in Dresden, so I'm not sure why not go all out if they might be available.
Auto Tram Extra Grand Used in Dresden
We've seen longer bi-articulated buses in action in places such as Curitiba on dedicated right of ways and in European cities but why haven't they found their way to the United States? If I were to venture a first guess, it would be that we don't have many lines that necessitate the length. The few that do are on busy city streets where turning and visibility with much smaller vehicles becomes an issue.
Research in the US (TCRP 75) focused on higher capacity buses found that articulated buses or "artics" were good at some tasks but not others. The one task that agencies said overwhelmingly that standard articulated buses in their fleets were better was turning radius. They found however that the buses were underpowered and poor at climbing hills and fuel economy. The under-powering in one instance led to longer running times on corridors. Another issue brought up was maintenance, with managers saying that another axle meant more repairs and less reliability.
However a case study of King County Metro in 2007 found that the buses were more cost effective per seat mile and had less maintenance issues than their 40 foot siblings.
Safety issues reported were instances where older articulated ends had a propensity to slide out wide on turns in addition to difficulty seeing boarding passengers towards the rear of the vehicle.
It was hard to find information on buses longer than 60 feet or even safety discussions, however in TCRP 90 it was noted that articulated buses have larger turning radii and overhang. There also is a need to have longer bulb outs and stops to accommodate longer vehicles, which of course would increase costs. Maintenance facilities need to be set up for longer buses as well and I've heard that if maintenance managers had their way, they would get rid of trains and artics and just run 40 foot buses everywhere. Unfortunately for many of them they have customers.
I know this isn't a completely exhaustive look at longer buses but I was curious about them, after making claims without researching before that it was a safety issue that was keeping longer vehicles off the roads. It still feels like this would be an issue when operating along side autos, bikes, and especially pedestrians, but for now, this is what I know.
I'm interested to see how LACMTA will implement this new rule on the Orange Line, and whether it will lead to increased ridership, as well as increased fighting on the bus vs rail argument. As a frequent bus and train rider here in San Francisco, I will say I will always choose the rail route if possible. But we can discuss preferences at another date too....