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Van who?

By enelson
Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 6:51 pm in AC Transit, Buses, Funding, Safety, transit equity.


I must admit, I have not darkened the door of the AC Transit Board of Directors like a good transportation writer should. It’s hard enough to get worked up over BART‘s august body of decision-makers, and they represent three of the Bay Area’s most crowded counties.

But I got an e-mail saying that perhaps 100 people were going to show up today to head off what ended up to be a unanimous decision to authorize a plan to purchase a fleet of new Van Hool buses.

Yes, Van Hool. They’re built in Belgium, and AC Transit staff make regular trips to the land of euthanasia and war crimes laws to see how their bus orders are moving through the assembly line.

Actually, the public outcry was about as robust as the transportation media’s (oh, let me speak for all of them, just this once) enthusiasm for stories about AC Transit. I admit, this is a disservice to our readers, many of whom depend upon bus service to get around. I suspect those six or eight people who showed up to question the agency’s penchant for European styling may represent the views of a great many riders who didn’t know about the meeting or the impending decision and perhaps had other priorities like waiting for a bus back from the doctor’s or grocery store.

These are the folks who wonder why the state, federal government and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission direct billions into BART extensions while their bus service declines and their fares increase. I have heard the explanations, and they sound logical. It’s difficult to fault them for questioning those decisions, however, while federal lawsuits over bus-rail funding equity issues present a much thornier thicket to see through.

But the folks who did show up told the board that they don’t much like the Van Hools, especially the 40-foot, three-door variety. They bob riders and drivers up and down thanks to an unfortunate weight distribution problem, have narrow aisles that make it harder for wheelchairs and people with service dogs to enter and high seats that are difficult for less energetic riders to climb into.

“These buses are really an insult to the riders,” said Joyce Roy, a semi-retired architect who lives in Oakland. From the time the buses were introduced in 2003, she said, it’s been no secret that riders and even drivers can’t stand these third-of-a-million-dollar motor coaches.

Even the Metropolitan Transportation Commission asked why the buses had to be purchased from abroad, possibly jeopardizing federal funding and costing more than domestically manufactured models. AC Transit responded back in October that it had “originally conducted a competitive procurement for suitably styled and engineered” buses for its Rapid Bus express lines, but domestic makers didn’t step up. Acknowledging this problem, the Federal Transit Administration then gave “federal authority for sole source procurements of European-made models.”

This explanation satisfied the MTC, but not riders like Roy, who contend that older and disabled riders let the Van Hools pass by until they can ride one of the fleet’s older buses with a roomier entrance.

AC Transit’s management assured the board that the new procurement of Van Hools will be custom made with some of the earlier issues designed out of them. Even then, the agency will try out a prototype before deciding on a big-number purchase of the Belgian buses.

I’d like to know why AC Transit’s needs are so unique that no other bus makers can satisfy them. I’m told Van Hool has a pretty healthy share of the U.S. bus market, which might indicate that the company makes an outstanding product at a competitive price.

I got the sense that AC Transit management feels an obligation to make Van Hool happy by trouble-free approval of this purchase. I can understand why that might make the intimate community of board followers just a tad curious.


Photo downloaded from 

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37 Responses to “Van who?”

  1. MikeyP Says:

    As someone who lived next to a busy bus stop for 10 years, I can say one thing in favor of the Van Hool buses: they are the quietest buses AC Transit has ever used. This is a wonderful quality-of-life improvement for those that live in areas serviced by bus.

  2. BrianT Says:

    I always wondered why AC Transit got those Van Hool buses. The seating configuration
    is definitely not user friendly. The ride is not smooth at all. Also, there’s no air conditioning.

    Did management check out express buses used in other agencies, like the Metro Orange Line in LA?

  3. South Bay Resident Says:

    It’s very strange to me that AC Transit didn’t follow the example of LA MTA, which really has been the leader in rapid bus service. When L.A. implemented Metro Rapid, they used exactly the same buses that they and AC Transit use in their general fleet, buses made by NABI. MTA has continued with this on all of their Metro Rapid lines except the busiest. That line uses a mix of 40′, 45′ and 60′ buses from NABI and New Flyer. It’s worth noting that MTA only went to larger buses when they had a bus every 2-3 minutes and couldn’t realistically operate more buses on the corridor. This is in contrast to the every 12 min service on the 72R. With a line that infrequent, there’s no reason for special equipment and lots of reasons to maintain standardization.

    It’s worth noting how great a success the original Metro Rapid line on Wilshire Blvd was. It currently carries 45,000 trips per day with buses operating every 2-3 minutes (this is in addition to “local” bus service along the same route) and will be supplemented this summer by a “Rapid Express” bus that will provide a third bus service option along the corridor (essentially an experiment with adding a “super express” bus that runs every 5-10 mins and makes even fewer stops. The initial metro rapid service along this line and one other, which increased ridership by 40% over the prior local bus service were implemented in 9 months for $8.2 million, which in the transit world is amazingly fast and cheap. AC has been far less inventive in their service.

    For what it’s worth, the buses that MTA uses on the Orange line are 60′ buses made by NABI. They suffer from the problem of being heavy and offering fairly low performance but are said to be quite comfortable and perform well enough in the service they are used for in LA.

  4. david vartanoff Says:

    1 AC spec’d the buses w. an extra rear door for a never to be implemented POP fare system
    2 The overly short wheelbase of the 40′ model causes a far rougher ride than other buses of similar size
    3 lift controls inconveniently located
    4 lack of handholds in the center area
    5 narrow aisles/raised seats drasticly slow boarding, alighting.
    6 slow acting exit doors
    this is ‘bus of the year’???

  5. AC Transit Rider Says:

    For customers who use mobility devices, the Van Hool buses are much better than the alternatives.

    With conventional buses, such customers enter through the front door, make a hard left turn, and then perform a manoeuvre not unlike parallel parking. The path of travel is narrow and is flanked by obstacles including the farebox, huge wheel casings (on low-floor buses) and other customers’ feet (on high-floor buses).

    With the Van Hool buses, customers who use mobility devices enter through the 2nd door. The securement positions are immediately opposite. There are no obstacles and no narrow paths. This photo, , shows the spacious entry and securement areas.

    As for the unusual seating arrangement, when I am in a window seat and my stop is approaching, it’s much easier for me to reach the aisle on a Van Hool bus than on a conventional bus. The Van Hool layout has far fewer positions where a customer is trapped between the window on one side, another customer on the other side, and a seat-back in the front.

    The Van Hool buses are more attractive than conventional buses, which is an important factor in attracting customers. The windows are large, which makes the buses bright and airy. Surfaces are continuous and the number of fittings is minimized, which makes the interior easy to clean and reduces the infernal rattling that we associate with AC Transit’s awful, clap-trap fleet of NABI buses.

    If you visit France or Germany, you’ll find buses with Van Hool attributes (not necessarily manufatured by Van Hool) pretty much everywhere. Attractiveness and comfort are standard on European transit buses. North American bus manufacturers are scrambling to catch up.

    The protectionist “Buy American” rule that applies to Federal Transit Administration grants saddles most U.S. transit agencies with uncomfortable and ugly buses. (I won’t get in to reliability here, but more than one transit vehicle fleet has been written off due to “Buy American” or “Buy Canadian” quality — another sad commentary on domestic industry.) Kudos to AC Transit for being creative in swapping federal funds for state funds (which do not involve protectionist trade restrictions) and buying a better bus.

  6. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    I think the current replacement program is to do away with lift mechanics. The flip-over ramps are easier to maintain.

    These are things that I have heard, but I am not enough of an insider to confirm: There is only one transit bus company which is entirely owned by American interests, Gillig, and they will no longer build buses to the specifications of companies like AC Transit, since they can sell their entire output to smaller, less demanding companies without hassle. The rest are branches of foreign companies. Canadian-owned New Flyer, the supplier before NABI (North American Bus Industry, a branch of a Hungarian company), apparently cannot meet the financial requirements to guarantee that they can complete a contract. There are a number of snags like that which limit choices. Orion, a branch of Mercedes, could not meet some of AC Transit’s specs, although I know that they have been considered. There just is not a big choice of suppliers.

    Roy Nakadegawa said that when he was on the AC Transit board, he had requested quieter buses and was always told that the manufacturers could not meet the specification. One thing that has helped has been clean air standards. In order to meet them, diesel engine manufacturers now offer 4 stroke engines, which are quieter, and get much better mileage to boot. But it still takes a manufacturer who cares enough to insulate the engine properly. Those engines are made in the US, which adds the domestic content.

    There are a number of incompatible requirements for transit buses. At some point a decision has to be made. Low-floor buses are better for those riders who have trouble climbing stairs. However, there needs to be a place for fuel, hence the climb to most of the seats. The low-floor NABIs tend to fill with baby strollers and shopping carts, which eventually block the rear door, so a third door can become a plus.

    My biggest complaint about both the Van Hools and the NABI low-floors have been the seats. The newest Van Hools, the 5000 series 30′ and 2100 series 60′ buses both have more comfortable seats. I rode on a 2100 for the first time today. I think they went into service this week. The folding seats for wheelchair access remain uncomfortable on all of them.

    I do not sitting at floor level on the Van Hools because it is difficult to see outside. I do not like the rear-facing seats on routes where I am not familiar with the stops, because it is easy to miss them. For my purposes, the high-floor buses are the best, but they are not as good for someone with mobility impairments like my mother-in-law. It is difficult and expensive to make a vehicle that is accessible to all people, regardless of their abilities. Congress said it was too expensive for automobile owners to pay for that, so they have forced people who cannot afford automobiles to pay for it instead. It is one of the many ways that transit riders have to subsidize automobile drivers.

  7. Liz Says:

    I have ridden on the ‘Hools and I’m not much of a fan of them. I prefer the Gillig and newFlyer low floor coaches like those used by VTA and Wheels. As for air conditioning, I don’t think AC ever ordered A/C on their coaches as long I can remember. This is since the area they server are cooler most of the time then the inland areas like San Jose and Livermore.

  8. Joyce Roy Says:

    The vehicle pictured is a Van Hool motor coach, a very different animal. Yes, “Van Hool has a pretty healthy share of the U.S.” motor coach market. Private carriers buy these and so have no problem with loss of federal funds. But as far as I can determine, AC Transit is the only U.S. public transit agency that has imported Van Hool buses. And I think AC Transit would make a big deal out of it if any did. AC Transit did manage to sell some of their Van Hools to Wash. DC for their Circulator line.

    The comment from AC Transit Rider, a.k.a., Chris Peeples, just shows if you are one of those who first promoted this bus, you are not going to be able to see anything wrong with it. When riders complain to this boardmember, he just replies by declaring it “the best bus in the world.” (He’s ridden them all?)

    People with mobility problems have no problem coming thru the front door like everyone else on the other low floor bus preferred by passengers, drivers and mechanics and which have been purchased with federal funds without creative swapping of funds. These are low-floor NABIs (North America Bus Industries) fromAlabama. Some of these are on the #62 and #43 lines.

    He says in his comments that it is easier to get out of the window seats. In fact, some of the most treacherous seats are the window seats where passengers are facing each other. You have to climb over three pairs of legs, and step down one foot into the aisle with nothing to hang onto. I have even seen a young agile rider fall attempting this maneuver.

    I was on a Van Hool bus with Mr. Peeples, when a passenger with two canes had to get to one of the few no-step seats that are not near the door. It took some time as it was crowded and people had to help him while shouting at the driver to not start moving before he got seated. In talking to the boardmember afterwards, I pointed out this example of how cumbersome they are and he replied, “but you see people do manage.”

  9. AC Transit Rider Says:

    I am most definitely not Chris Peeples. I could only wish I had a seat on the AC Transit board!
    I am an ordinary rider and an occasional commentator here. I hid my name because I did not want to incur the wrath of the small but vocal group of Van Hool haters.

    To avoid confusion, I want to point out that the picture at the head of the blog entry does indeed show Van Hool over-the-road coaches, which are not used by AC Transit. The picture linked in my comment shows a Van Hool transit bus that is virtually identical to the ones AC Transit uses.

    The last commentator is completely wrong about customers with mobility devices. Low-floor buses with front-entry layouts force such customers to dodge a farebox, negotiate a narrow path between the two giant casings that cover the front wheels, and then execute a parallel parking maneuver in a tight space. It is an unsatisfactory arrangement — so unsatisfactory that some customers prefer to wheel their mobility devices backward rather than forward when entering. With each successive low-floor model, manufacturers have managed to shave a bit more off the sides of the wheel casings, but unless tires become narrower or buses wider, there will always be a problem with low-floor, front-entry layouts. The Van Hool layout avoids the problem entirely. Again, see

    On the question of “the best bus in the world” and the dilemma of whether to buy from Alabama or from Europe, I think the last commentator should visit Europe and see first-hand the types of modern, comfortable transit buses that are popular outside the U.S. and Canada (at least in the Western democracies; NABI is, as someone mentioned, a front for a failed East European bus manufacturer).

  10. Joyce Roy Says:

    If “AC Transit Rider” is not Chris Peeples, he is his alter ego. And if he likes Chris, he will take that as a complement.

    The riders who hate the configuration of seating on the Van Hools as designed by AC Transit are a large but not vocal group. You just have to ask riders on any Van Hool bus to learn this. But most AC Transit riders use buses out of necessity, not choice. They are not your usual letter writers and they don’t expect public agencies to listen to them. But if Muni, which has so many riders of choice, put these buses on the road you would have such an outcry in the press that they would be gone within a week.

    The Van Hool may be a bit more convenient for those in wheelchairs at least if the driver can maneuver to a clear sidewalk spot opposite the middle door. And, if as the second wheelchair user, you don’t mind facing backward. The low-floor NABIs, which do not have Van Hool’s 21″ bottleneck at the entrance, can easily accommodate those with walkers, shopping carts, service dogs and baby strollers. They can get in quickly and sit down in the up-front perimeter seating without blocking other passengers.

    Indeed, all these words are useless. The proof is in the pudding. Take the Rapid Bus, 72R from downtown Oakland, then get off somewhere on San Pablo and take the 72 local bus which is a low-floor NABI and see which bus better accommodates people with service dogs or walkers, etc. And note nowhere in that bus do you have to step up one foot to get into a seat!

  11. Karen Engel Says:

    On the Van Hools I have ridden, only half the poles have “next stop” buttons on them. If you are in an upstairs seat and the bus is crowded, and you have to cross the aisle to find a “stop” button to press, and you are going-on-seventy-years-old, it is no fun.

    NABI buses have “stop” buttons on all poles on both sides of the aisle, as well as the wider aisles important for strollers and shopping carts. Benches facing center aisle at the front of the bus create the wider aisles. which the Van Hools don’t have.

    Most of us older riders tend to sit at the front and hate having to mount 2 steps for a seat without a “stop” button. Younger folks, especially school-age, seem to prefer the back (up 2 steps on the NABIs). So to me, the NABIs accommodate all age groups well.

    Why the heck can’t we give Van Hool a picture of a NABI floorplan and ask them to build it? “Build it and they will come.”

  12. Pete Says:

    As a European (well British) I find the Van Hool styling more acceptable than US transit
    buses, which look strange to me (no offence meant). For comparison here is an interior shot of a typical lower deck on a British low floor double decker:
    And a single decker:

  13. AC Transit Rider Says:

    We are missing something here.

    Whether or not we believe that the Van Hool buses are the best, the record shows that AC Transit bought them because its staff and its elected board believed them to be the best.

    Most bus procurement decisions in the U.S. come down to 3 criteria:
    1. Is the bus made in the U.S.?
    2. Does the design meet regulatory requirements (for emissions control, accessibility, etc.)?
    3. Of the bids that were received, was this the cheapest?

    In choosing a bus on the basis of its own criteria, AC Transit did something pretty courageous.

    It would have been much easier for staff to copy a bus specification from some other transit agency, and for the board to buy from some U.S. manufacturer. Instead, they looked for a bus that they believed would come closer to meeting local needs. (Again, we may disagree on what those needs are, but that’s not the point of this comment.) And they did the extra practical and political work on behalf of some of the poorest, most highly-dependent transit users in the region and in the nation. It would have been much easier for AC Transit’s staff and board to go with the flow.

    There are so many examples of transit vehicle procurements that put the desires of state or federal politicians ahead of the needs of local users. For just two examples, Google “orion tubular steel bus” and “boeing lrv”.

    By steering its own course, AC Transit is helping all U.S. transit agencies. Someday, riders outside the AC Transit service area will also get to ride in buses that were not bought just because they were made in the U.S. and just because they were the cheapest available.

    On the subject of AC Transit board member Chris Peeples, I have never talked with the man, but if he is out there setting higher procurement standards, I do have to applaud him. The general manager of a small, nearby transit agency recently told me about two of that agency’s bus procurements. The first order had minimum specifications — not even padded seats. When the new general manager arrived, it took an argument with the assistant GM (who had specified the original order), but the new general manager won a higher standard of comfort. He specified padded seats in the front, on a trial basis, and special seat frames in the back, so that padded seats could be retrofitted if there was not too much vandalism in the front. It’s easier to go with the flow; why attack an elected official who is taking political risks so that AC Transit will have the right to buy buses of its own choosing?

  14. Michael Krueger Says:

    The Capricious Commuter wrote:

    I suspect those six or eight people who showed up to question the agency’s penchant for European styling may represent the views of a great many riders who didn’t know about the meeting or the impending decision and perhaps had other priorities like waiting for a bus back from the doctor’s or grocery store.

    Please don’t forget that there are also folks whose “other priorities” prevented us from attending that meeting but who would have spoken out in favor of the Van Hools. People will go to much greater lengths to be heard when they are upset about something. People who are content with the status quo rarely show up at public meetings just to say “great job, stay the course!,” even when those meetings are scheduled at much more convenient times.

    At the risk of being pelted with rotten tomatoes, I’ll say that I really like the Van Hools and I have a very hard time understanding all the fervent negative feelings they have generated.

    Yes, some of the seats are higher, but doesn’t the low floor also make it much easier to board with a stroller, shopping cart, or suitcase, not to mention a wheelchair? Whenever I’m carrying luggage on the way to Oakland airport or BART to SFO, I always hope for a Van Hool to pick me up.

    Another important reason I prefer Van Hools over NABIs is that they are much quieter, as MikeyP already pointed out. I live on a busy bus route (Santa Clara Ave. in Alameda) and even the newest low-floor NABIs generate a roar I can hear from my bedroom, which does not face the street. I hardly notice the Van Hools.

    Also, folks complain about the rough ride of the Van Hools, but the NABIs seem just as rough to me. The only buses in the fleet with a truly smooth ride are the huge green MCI “freeway cruisers” used on some transbay runs. It would be great if the ride of the other buses could be smoothed out, but again, I don’t see why the Van Hools should be demonized for a problem that is common to all of the non-cruiser buses.

    Some people complain that the automatic doors are slow, but at least the are automatic! I like them much better than the manual doors on the NABIs, which are hard to open, noisy when closing, and extremely difficult to navigate while carrying bags or luggage. I’ll take a slow automatic door over being bashed in the face by a slamming manual door any day!

    I also like the colored destination signs on the front of the new Van Hools. Thanks to AC Transit’s decision to color-code these signs by line, I can tell whether my bus is approaching from blocks away, even when the sign is partially obstructed by obstacles. The color-coded destination signs are a very useful feature that also happens to look nice.

    Although this feature is not unique to the Van Hools, I also appreciate the fabric seats, which are far superior to the hard plastic seats on some of the NABI models. The fabric offers a little padding and, more importantly, keeps one’s derriere from sliding around when the bus turns or brakes suddenly.

    I think all of this customer feedback should be channeled into improving the design of future buses, but I have no desire to see AC Transit drop the Van Hools in favor of NABIs. After traveling in Europe and seeing the innovative, comfortable, and attractive bus designs that are out there, the offerings of NABI and the other American manufacturers look even dowdier and more dated by comparison. The differences remind me of Detroit versus the Japanese automakers in the 1970’s. I worry that the “buy America” provision just shields the American manufacturers from healthy competition, locking them into an effective monopoly no matter how far behind their engineering may lag.

    As Mr. De Benedictis says, it’s very difficult and expensive to make a bus that pleases everyone. Although there is still some room for improvement, I think AC Transit deserves praise for doing an excellent job with its limited fleet procurement and maintenance resources.

  15. david vartanoff Says:

    See that’s just backwards. AC went through these hoops to buy an INFERIOR design. They succeeded in wasting bith cash and passenger comfort on the extra doors while failing to provide such “amenities” as sufficient handgrabs and stop buttons. And the next order will be far more like the cheaper domestic alternatives they scorned.

  16. Barbara Scapelitte Says:

    It wasn’t too long ago that AC bought some of these buses, and then cut back on bus routes, and was planning to sell some of the excess buses AC Transit no longer needed. What’s up with now planning to buy yet more buses?

  17. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    There is a substantial amount of US content in the Van Hool buses, and substantial foreign content in buses assembled in the US.

    As I said, there is a lot of disagreement over what is good and what is bad on these buses. I like the plastic seats on the high-floor NABIs better than any of the others, including the upholstered seats on the MCI cruisers. They fit me best. Such things are tastes, which are subject to our preconceptions. I do not like how rail transit jerks from side to side all the time, something that never happens on buses, and yet I hear about how much smoother rail is than buses. Actually, the smoothness of the ride depends less on the vehicle than on the surface it goes on. Rail has some inherent roughness at switches and crossings; roads do not. Beyond that, it is a matter of construction and maintenance, both of which are easier to do properly on roads.

  18. Joyce Roy Says:

    Mr. Michael Krueger makes Van Hool buses sound so loverly, that I guess all those seniors, people who walk with two canes or a service dog that don’t like stepping up a foot to get into a seat are just cranks that can’t appreciate European styling.

  19. Pete Says:

    Further to my interior shots of 5th Feb, here are some exterior shots of British buses to
    contrast with US designs. First pic is low floor model Alexander Dennis Dart SLF. the interior of which you can see on my
    previous posting.
    Next is a Scania low floor single decker with Wright Bros body
    Next is a double decker exterior – a Wright Eclipse Gemini (also low floor) This will seat around 76 passengers.
    Finally, a BRT vehicle – a Wright StreetCar

  20. Michael Krueger Says:

    If you read my comment, you’ll find that it is concerned primarily with matters of substance, not style. (By the way, I forgot to cite better visibility — thanks to larger windows — as another substantive advantage of the Van Hools over the NABIs.) I do not deny that some people have problems with the Van Hools, but I do object to the implication that all bus riders dislike them. No one vehicle will please everyone, but I think the Van Hools strike a good balance. I would like to see the results of a scientifically conducted survey of passengers, as opposed to the small and largely anecdotal “I love ’em/I hate ’em” battle that has been raging since the Van Hools were introduced.

  21. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Pete, just out of curiosity, how much do these buses cost? I’m also curious about how easy it is to navigate the lower floor of the double-decker.

  22. Pete Says:

    Capricious, firstly, the link for the Wright Eclipse Gemini double decker in my previous
    posting has a full stop on the end preventing it from working. Here is an amended link

    The cost of a 12metre long low floor single decker would be approx £115,000 (this is the
    price quoted for an Optare Tempo by Mistral Group bus sales).

    UK low floor double deckers lower decks are as easy to navigate as a single decker.
    They have kneeling front suspension and powered or manual retractable ramps. They
    have space for 1 or sometimes two wheelchair users on the nearside immediately behind
    the front wheel arch. Wheelchairs travel facing backwards against a back rest, but are
    not secured apart from applying their brakes. Wheelchair bays usually have tip-up seats
    for use by non wheelchair passengers if the space isnt occupied. UK bus stops are being
    modified with raised kerbs that guide the front tyre to minimise the gap and step up to
    the bus. This is aided by the fact that most UK buses are single door only (London
    excepted), so only a short raised kerb is needed, click on link to see picture of typical
    stop on page 14 of this link

  23. Joyce Roy Says:

    I want to thank Pete for a mini tour of British buses. What a contrast to our Van Hools. They look like they would be fun to ride, even for people walking with two canes. I could spot only a couple of step-up on one bus whereas on our Van Hools there are only 3 seats that are not step-up.

    To compare apples to apples, do you have a price for a two door 40′ low-floor bus?


  24. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    Actually, the 40 foot Van Hools have 7 seats at floor level. The 30 foot have 8, not counting the seat on the right front wheel well. I am not certain about the 60 footers, as I do not like to ride on the back of them, but there are a couple more on the newest ones. There are 4 folding seats on each of these.

    The British buses seem to be bi-level, like the NABI low-floors. As I said, carts and strollers are a real problem on them. A third door with steps might help. But one of the reasons for the through-low-floor buses is to avoid injury claims from the steps at the doors.

  25. Joyce Roy Says:

    It seems Van Hool has a bad reputation in Europe also. In response to my Guest Commentary in Friday’s Montclarion, a reader said, “I must confess that I have not ridden on the new Van Hool coaches in service here in Oakland. I have, however used them or a similar coach in Stockholm, Sweden. They were configured with an awkward, cramped seating arrangement you so aptly described in your commentary. In the forties and fifties this country set the standard for well-designed, easy to maintain motor coaches that would last a lifetime. Its a shame that technology has somehow been lost.”

  26. Pete Says:

    Joyce, the Optare Tempo I quoted the £115,000 price tag in my posting of 9th Feb is
    available in lengths up to 12.6M which I think equates to 39′. The following link takes you
    to the manufacturer’s website where there is a pdf full technical spec including seating
    layouts etc plus a photo of a right-hand drive dual door bus, which may be of interest.
    Bruce, the British low floor buses are what you call bi-level, but the low floor part extends
    back to just before the rear axle. On dual door buses both doorways are located in the
    low floor part so there are no steps to negotiate at the exit door.

  27. Bruce De Benedictis Says:

    That is the same as the bilevel coaches here. The problem comes with adding a third door. That would have steps with this sort of bus.

    I noticed today that the newest articulated Van Hools have only 3 doors, and that they have 8 fixed seats with no steps, in addition to the 4 folding seats. I believe there are fewer fixed seats on the older articulated buses.

  28. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    Great discussion. I personally loathe the Van Hools but I don’t ride AC regularly, only occasionally. Dismissing the accessibillity issue is unfortunate. Van Hools comply with ADA but that doesn’t make them the best choice. Buying buses because they are quieter and won’t disturb the neighbors doesn’t make a lot of sense. The seats are tiny for anyone with a full figure. Worst bus ride of my life was on a Van Hool from downtown Oakland to East Oakland. Never do it again. I’ll keep BARTing and driving, thank you. There’s no way this bus design could lure me out my car.

    Also, I thought the double deckers in the UK were being phased out. There was something in the press a few months ago about it.

  29. Pete (UK) Says:

    I can asure you double deckers are not being phased out in the UK. They are used on urban and busy interurban routes because they provide more seats (75 – 85), and take up less road space than an artic. Brits don’t like to stand you see. Here are some London Pictures:

  30. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Van Hool, where have you been all my life (or short career as a blogger)? This hitherto ignored issue has become the biggest thing to hit the blog since its inception (note to self: 1st anniversary coming up in April). Thanks to everyone who weighed in on this, especially those who have personal knowledge of how these things have changed AC Transit and, of course, Pete, for providing us with some comparative information. Hey, get enough people riled up about this and maybe you’ll make a sale, or two or 50. What with AC Transit moving toward wholesaling buses to other agencies, who knows where it will lead. I’d just like to know where Van Hool is in this discussion. I’m sure their reps would want to respond if only they were aware of the debate. On the other hand, when you have such a chummy relationship with a big agency like AC Transit, maybe it’s better to keep quiet.

  31. Michael Krueger Says:

    I can understand how Frequent Amtrak Rider got the idea that “the double deckers in the UK were being phased out.” Pete from the UK correctly states (and he should know!) that the double deckers are alive and well; however, it is true that the classically styled Routemaster buses have been phased out in favor of newer, boxier low-floor models.

    My wife and I happened to be on vacation in London on the last day of the Routemasters on Route 38, so we rode one of the buses from the beginning of the line in downtown London to the end of the line out in the suburbs. We were amazed by all of the bus fans who turned out for the event, not only riding the buses but taking pictures all along the route. The Routemaster is, in most people’s minds, the classic London bus, so it was easy to understand the nostalgia. The bus we rode had fabric seats with an interesting pattern (custom-made for London Transport, we later learned) and windows that cranked up and down like car windows. The open platform in the rear has the same sort of appeal as the San Francisco cable cars, allowing the more daring passengers to hang on to a pole as the bus rumbles down the street.

    The main problem with the high-floor Routemasters is that they are not wheelchair-accessible, which is why they were all withdrawn from regular service in 2005. Other reasons cited for the withdrawal are that they require more expensive operation with a conductor (because there is no front door, the driver is not in a position to conduct fares) and that the open rear platform is a liability issue. However, London Transport has retained two short tourist-oriented “heritage” lines that operate with Routemasters, so it is still possible to experience a nostalgic bit of transportation history in action.

  32. Frequent Amtrak Rider Says:

    Thanks for the clarification about the double deckers. I knew I read something or other about them.

  33. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > busdinistas to rail against Van Hool hegemony Says:

    […] The controversy has set records on this blog. I really had no idea people could be so passionate about bus design and procurement. I guess that’s because I take a train to work most days, and can drive whenever that’s not convenient. […]

  34. jerry mandel Says:

    I was a 71 yr old lifetime atheist in fair health until I rode my first Van Hool on the 51 line. Sure enough, I found God and improved my health. Now, when my bus approaches I pray my trip will be safe, and when I exit I drop to my knees and thank God all my bones and joints are ok. The more trips I took the harder I prayed. My dr. says my cholesterol has dropped 35 points since I started walking more. My medical bils are lower, too, except for my shrink who can’t figure out the meaning of the nightmare when, on my way to heaven, Satan thrusts me back left and I reach for something to hold on to and it is not easy to get to, and just as I grab for it Satan suddenly jerks me front right. . . . Then I awake and thank God and Van Hool, too, for having body, at least, in perfect shape.

  35. The weekly from hell | A Better Oakland Says:

    […] to be loud, and apparently capture the hearts of some reporters, they certainly can’t seem to turn out big numbers: I must admit, I have not darkened the door of the AC Transit Board of Directors like a good […]

  36. This weekly is dead to me, part 2 | A Better Oakland Says:

    […] If you didn’t read it, here’s the link, but for those who don’t want to waste there time, here’s the deal. Gammon’s story is about the Van Hool buses, which I (and everyone I know) happen to like much better than the old buses, but have generated some very aggressive complaints from some riders. Although the anti-Van Hool movement, spearheaded by Oakland activist Joyce Roy, can be extremely loud, they haven’t demonstrated in the past that they can turn out much in the way of numbers. […]

  37. Manfromoakland Says:

    I hate the van hools. Obviously designed by some engineer who never has to ride busses. Seats facing each other? Different elevations? I just want to chill out, not have a staring contest with some stranger looming over me. The killer is that instead of supporting a local bus company, AC transit buys this crap from Europe. Gillig in Hayward makes busses. Our money could be going to support local workers and a local company that pays taxes- the taxes that support AC transit!!!

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