Part of the Bay Area News Group

Van Hooligans

By enelson
Thursday, January 24th, 2008 at 7:58 pm in AC Transit, Buses, Funding, Safety.

uncool-van-hool.jpgIt was with some pride that I dissected this week’s East Bay Express cover story on the rise of Belgian-made Van Hool buses at AC Transit. I enjoyed seeing that regular Capricious Commuter commentator David Vartanoff was quoted in the story and that another regular voice on this blog, V Smoothe, had a scathing critique of the story on her own blog,

I read Bob Gammon’s story, “The Buses from Hell,” with interest, wanting to know as much as possible about these buses that get some riders and bus drivers so angry they might be provoked to throw something at these vehicles with sleek European styling. He’s won more awards for his work than I’ve submitted entries for, so I knew this would be something good.

I mean, you can’t go wrong when you start a story with, “Pamela Daniels lost her left leg to a Van Hool bus.” Gammon is careful to give both sides of the story, including AC Transit’s description of the leg being seriously injured prior to Daniels’ tragic fall on the low-floored Van Hool bus.

But the article had a profound effect on V Smoothe, who not only titled her blog post “The Weekly from Hell,” but declared, “This paper is dead to me.”

The Expressis still quite alive for me, and I’m secretly hoping that Part II of the exposé doesn’t include any bombshells that I will be forced to explain away to my editor.

I saw Gammon at last night’s AC Transit board meeting, which I attended to hear the board table the agency staff’s fare increase proposals.

As if to rub in my aloofness when it came to bus transit and the downtrodden of our fair city, a very nice longtime rider advocate came up to me, in front of my colleagues from the Express and the Berkeley Daily Planet and said, “You’re new here. Who do you work for?” Cue peals of laughter.

Ok, so I’ve been busy with the Bay Bridge, Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other things having more to do with personal vehicular transportation than the proletarian alternative.

And here’s a further confession: I’ve been driving to work, 74 miles each way! I could take a train, but I’m waiting for the month to end so I can get a monthly pass for February. No, this month my carbon footprint is probably bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (I should add that he’s not as imposing up close as he is on the big screen).

There, it’s all out in the open. I’m part of the problem. Sneer all you want. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition won’t even link to my blog, I’m such an interchangeable component of the Corporate Mainstream Media Industrial Complex.

That settled, I’m going to mount my MTC transponder, drive back to my exclusive Central Valley enclave and call it a day.

Photo from

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

14 Responses to “Van Hooligans”

  1. Reedman Says:

    The thing that I find amazing is that AC Transit (Alameda County Transit) obviously wrote it’s purchase specifications to ensure it got the bus it wanted (the Van Hool, brought over from Belgium). These Belgian buses drive by one of the main builders of transit buses, Gillig, right there in Hayward, Alameda County). Is it possible that the ACT ego’s involved could have given some consideration to encouraging local jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector?

  2. More fact checking on the East Bay Express's Van Hool story | A Better Oakland Says:

    […] slanted. It’s completely wrong. (Which, incidentally, is why I was very surprised too see the Capricious Commuter, whose writing I generally enjoy, say about the story “Gammon is careful to give both […]

  3. V Smoothe Says:

    Reedman –

    Honestly, I don’t care much about the Van Hools one way or another. I absolutely prefer them to the old buses, but if AC Transit wanted to use some other manufacturer for low-floor buses, that’s fine with me too.

    I don’t think, however, that AC Transit has any obligation whatsoever to buy local buses in order to create local jobs. They’re a transit agency, not a job-creation program, and their priorities should be finding the manufacturer who can deliver the best product for their users, not boosting local businesses.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    V, I meant to say in my comment on your blog that my line about presenting both sides referred to giving AC Transit a chance to respond to the charges, like when they gave their version of how that poor woman lost her leg. Clearly, there are many levels of fairness, and one could also spend an additional three months reporting the counter-thesis, too. That is not, however, the norm, and Dellums and many other media critics could have a valid gripe there. The norm in this business, as much as it shames me to admit it, is to spend days, weeks or months reporting to prove somebody done wrong and then give them an afternoon (or two minutes) to disprove it. It appears that Gammon gave the agency much more than that, however, regardless of how you judge the accuracy of his months of reporting.

  5. david vartanoff Says:

    Well designed Low Floor buses already are part of AC’s fleet. They had NO NEED for the VH products which are more expensive to buy, to get delivery, and mean a whole new batch of spare parts to stock–few of them common to the previous fleet. The professed desire for POP enabling features is so far just talk and extra cost for unused equipment. Note, I make no claim for Gillig, I just want functional buses for cheap. The VH design has very slow doors which delay the buses as we wait to get off. They may look snazzy but they ride like s#^% because the needless third door moved the rear axle too far forward. And to put icing on the cake there are insufficient hand holds in the open center section making it difficult to get from the narrow entry aisle to the non ADA seating.

  6. Doug Faunt Says:

    The NABI low-floor buses are much better. The low floor extends from the front door to the rear door, with forward-facing seats at that level (no step up to the seats), and then there’s one step up to a higher platform of seats at the rear for the more-abled. I had the luck to ride a Van Hool 51 to Alameda where I got on a NABI low-floor on the 50 run to OAK, with much heavy baggage. The difference was most enlightening, and turned me against the Van Hools.

    I note that Muni has TransLink readers at the rear doors of many of their vehicles, for POP service, whereas AC doesn’t seem to think this is necessary, even if they’ve got buses that are optimized for this service. This was done to the detriment of the AC ridership, as I see it.

    I’m not against AC, but I am against the Van Hool buses. When I’ve talked to riders and drivers, they’ve largely agreed with me. My perception is that people who like them are comparing them to the old high-floor buses, and they are an improvement there. But they’re not good enough.

  7. kris Says:

    Anyone who is defending the VanHells obviously does not ride them everyday. Sitting up high, backwards, unable to see your stop, with nothing to grab on to while the bus jerks back and forth is scary. The smaller buses are the worst. American roads are in worse shape than European roads so you feel the ups and downs and worse, side to side. When the buses stop suddenly hold on or you’ll be on the floor!

  8. Michael Krueger Says:

    “Anyone who is defending the VanHells obviously does not ride them everyday.”

    Another possibility is that we do ride them—perhaps not every day, but often—and we like them. Perhaps we don’t find a backward-facing seat to be that big of a problem, compared to the other advantages the buses offer. Perhaps we’ve noticed that half of the seats on many streetcars and trains face backward, and it’s not the end of the world. Could that be it?

    I find it amazing that dissenting views on the Van Hool issue are waved away with the casual dismissal, “Well, then you must not ride these buses, or else you would agree how terrible they are!” Apparently the only opinions that count are the ones that slot nicely into the “Van Hools are evil” world view.

  9. V Smoothe Says:

    I agree that it is insulting for those who dislike the Van Hools to accuse everyone who does like them of not riding the bus. Personally, I frequently find myself riding standing room only buses, and prefer the Van Hools to both the old high-floor buses and the low floor NABI buses because I find them more spacious and pleasant to ride when you’re standing up.

  10. Doug Faunt Says:

    Interesting. I see many people standing on the Van Hools rather than sitting backwards. I think the quality of ride makes a big difference between backwards on these buses vs doing the same on rail stock.
    And given the lack of enough handholds, and the necessity for them on the Van Hools, I’m a little surprised. My balance is good enough so I can ride BART and MUNI standing without a handhold- on the Van Hools I must have one if not seated, and even then it’s pretty brutal.

    So what advantages do the Van Hools have that make their driver and rider unpleasantness worthwhile?

    Certainly the driver on the 72 yesterday didn’t like them, and his statement was that most drivers didn’t.

  11. Robert Manson Says:

    As someone who rides AC Transit occasionally, I opine that the busses are actually nicer than anything that SF Muni runs, including the New Flyers.

    Numerous parts of his story appear to be intentionally misleading (ie the insinuation that all the seats are on elevated platforms).

    I am shocked that this writer has been awarded for anything. Is he being paid by Gillig? Did Gillig even make low floor busses in 1996?

  12. Robert Manson Says:

    oh ya… and why is it the priority for AC Transit to buy local? If they can get better busses abroad isn’t that better for the people that actually ride the bus?

  13. Kit Vaq Says:

    I am a regular AC Transit bus rider since 1984. I just had a falling accident on April 29th on the 72R Van Hool bus. It sent me to the emergency room on advice from Kaiser the next day because more soreness and bruising showed up. I had been thrown across the bus aisle, hitting empty seats and a passenger. All because I had attempted to get off one of those high seats (approximately a foot from the bus floor) as it came to a stop. The bus driver refused to file a report even though I asked. I’m on pain meds and ice with no health insurance or sick leave, plus I’m on job probation and have to take time out to deal with this.

    The incident, of course, made me miss my transfer bus home and I had to wait again for my bus, but this time in pain.

    I’ve yet to hear back from AC Transit who I phoned and e-mailed my accident to. By the way, I did get the bus driver’s badge and the bus number.

    The same week, during the morning rush hour on the #18, a man had a hard time finding something to hold onto as this crowded bus moved. He fell on top of an elderly woman’s wire basket cart, ripped his pants and damaged her cart.

    I have seen countless other passengers fall, slip and hold on for dear life onto their seats as these Van Fools or Van Hooligans dangerously travel down the streets of the East Bay. These buses should carry the sign “Ride at Your Own Risk” instead of “Bus of the Year”. Or maybe the sign should say “Bus of Fear”.

  14. News Media « AC Transit WATCH Says:

    […] […]

Leave a Reply