Double-decker bus controversy arrives in San Luis Obispo

August 30, 2010


Updated Aug. 31. to include the price of the bus and statements by Tim Bochum, deputy director of public works.

Amid budget cuts and plans to raise the cost of bus service for the elderly and disabled, San Luis Obispo city officials announced a ribbon cutting ceremony to promote the addition of a new double-decker bus the city purchased for $850,000.

The ribbon cutting for the only California municipal-owned European style bus is scheduled for September 7 at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The 14 foot-high bus does not fit under railroad bridges and tree lined roads. Because of this, the bus was unable to cover all but a portion of one existing route without modifications.

City workers moved obstacles on the two busiest routes.

“To make sure there were no issues we trimmed trees and had the cable company raise two cables,” said Dee Lawson, public works transit assistant. “The bus will do Route 4 in the morning and Route 5 in the afternoon.”

In addition, public works’ officials are planning to reconstruct the opening of the maintenance building to accommodate the two-story vehicle. Additional costs, such as hiring an outside firm to wash the bus because it will not fit in the city’s wash station, are also expected.

Tim Bochum, deputy director of public works, said the city purchased the bus to eliminate problems with leave behinds in the past. Usually during the first few weeks of a quarter at Cal Poly, the city would run an extra bus for a few hours four mornings a week to eliminate problems with buses being to crowded to fit all the people waiting to get on.

And while the city has decided to take two spare buses out of commission and only purchase one new bus, the amount of miles being driven will remain unchanged, aside from the overflow buses that run at least 24 hours a year.

In addition, Bochum said the funds for the new bus do not come out of the same pot used for operational costs. The federal, state and county monies, primarily federal monies, used for the bus were for  earmarked for capital expenditures.

In June, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously to defer requests for permission to raise standard fares from $1.25 to $1.50 and disabled fares from 60 cents to 75 cents. In addition, they rejected proposals that riders, who currently use free transfer passes from bus to bus, pay the full rate for each transfer more than doubling their cost of riding the bus.

Councilman Andrew Carter noted that when the city raised standard fares from $1 to $1.25 and disabled and senior fares from 50 cents to 60 cents in 2009, the amount of revenue dropped because of a decrease in ridership.

The council asked staff to consider charging more for monthly passes to make up for a budget deficit attributed to the reduced ridership and a 16 percent reduction in state funding.

Staffers are now requesting permission to raise senior and disabled monthly passes from $12.50 to $15, Lawson said. In addition, riders, who currently use free transfer passes from bus to bus, would have to pay 75 cents if the fare modifications are approved.

John Webster, public works transit manager, warned the council in June that if they do not find away to lower the deficit, they would be forced to cut services.

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For those that suggest that an articulated bus is a better deal AND cheaper, READ ON!!

According to the Dispatch article, the average cost of an articulated bus is $850,000 with a capacity of 120 passengers. (For comparison, the average cost for a regular bus is $450,000 with a capacity of 60 passengers).

The sixty passengers includes standees and 40′ buses customarily have 36-38 seats.

The 120 passengers also incude standees as articulated buses do not have 120 seats

Higher cost if you can dare to spell “HYBRID”

transituser / transitrider: Maybe you have given this information already and I missed it.

Please provide information about any other single municipality in the world, with a poulation of 20,000 to 60,000 full time residents, who purchased a double deck bus at their equivalent of $850,000.00, having done so independently and without being part of any joint partnership or regional transit organization. Using funds from any source. Show us one equal example somewhere in the world of a double deck bus being purchased on almost identical terms, to what San Luis Obispo has done.

If you have done this already, please show me where I missed it.

As stated in previous posts the City of Davis California has had a long and successful “Public” Transit operation using double deck buses. Their transit operation runs similar service (Albeit with a larger fleet) to what SLO Transit provides. Davis has a population of about 63,000. In addition Davis CANNOT use their double decks on all of their routes AND they just purchased 2 new Double Deck buses from the same company (Alexander-Dennis) and made at the same factory (El Dorado in Riverside) and are almost identical to the SLO model.

“Unitrans provides public transportation service to the entire city with 49 buses on 14 routes, carrying over 3 million passengers/year (about 20,000 on a typical day).

Each day, Davis residents ride buses to get to destinations throughout the City. Many riders are students going to/from UCD, but the system is also used extensively for trips to places such as downtown, junior and senior high schools, library, hospital, neighborhood shopping centers, medical offices, senior center, theaters, and the Farmers’ Market. Buses serve these locations every weekday from 7am-11pm, and on Saturday from 9am-6pm. Buses run more frequently during the UCD academic year when ridership is higher, and less frequently during the summer and breaks.”

A major flaw in your logic is to suggest that because of the City of San Luis Obispo’s population are only 44,000 that this bus is not needed. But you ignore the fact that “MOST” small cities transit systems do not carry over 1 million passengers annually unless they have some kind of University Service.

Most trips on Routes 4&5 are so full when Cal Poly is in session that it requires passengers to stand as the 36-38 seats on the 40′ buses are being used. How can the city be faulted for purchasing a vehicle that will allow those passengers to now have a seat?

Some suggest even now despite the many facts and data provided that a 60′ articulated bus would somehow be a better choice but IGNORE the reality that it would not be able to service the main transfer location outside city hall (Downtown Transit Center-DTC) due to the 45′ head in parking design (Saw tooth) . It would have required a major construction project ($$$) not to mention the over 200 existing bus stops. In addition the current maintenance facility bays are not long enough to allow an articulated bus inside and that goes for the bus wash as well. So PLEASE suggest what other “high occupancy” model bus is left?

Given your parameters just because SLO is small they should ignore cutting edge technology and go back to the “Good Old Days” when SLO Transit only had 2 RV style buses and carried 142,000 passengers per year.

I can just imagine the gnashing of teeth if the City was to purchase a diesel-electric Hybrid bus or a Zero-emission bus using hydrogen……..

The ONLY voice that really should drive this discussion are the passengers who will actually benefit from the new style bus, perhaps those naysayers should take some time to ride it first and talk to them before they make up their minds but not holding my breath on that….

Unitrans has a fleet of about 37 buses, and thier current roster reads that only 3 of the old london style RT series double deck buses are still active (converted to natural gas). The remaining fleet are single deck Orion and New Flyer buses. They are expecting delivery on two Alexander Dennis Enviro500 buses, but have not reported them in service. BUT, I do not believe the Unitrans fleet is owned by the city of Davis, nor the expenditures for the fleet approved by thier city council. If I am wrong, I will know tomorrow.

Who’s idea was it for the “saw tooth” on Osos street anyway? Another city expenditure that lacked forethought? The RTA buses don’t require a “sawtooth” sidewalk on thier side of Osos street. In short, San Luis Obispo has a long history of having the newest city owned toys on the Central Coast. When they roll a double sized yellow and blue one down Madonna Road, we all have to wonder if this new toy was necessary. Your arguements make this sound like a necessity. I guess I’m just shocked that SLO spent money on a necessity for once.

The davis buses were made just prior to the SLO bus and are indeed in service. While and simply amazing comment on saw tooth design from someone who purports to be a transit fan since a kid. Why don’t you call RTA and ask them if they would prefer absaw tooth design or keep the three spaces on osos street when they could have five in the same length of curb.

At least you are seeing the light on being a necessity

I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced yet, but I am a resonable person and hope our debate has helped better inform folks of the details on the new double deck bus. I for one consider myself better informed. I first used SLO Transit in 1974, when the little blue buses appeared with the name “Jim’s Transportation” written on the side. I believe this was the same company that operated yellow cab at the time. Just two routes. I used the bus everyday to go to high school in the early ’80s when the first Orion 35′ diesels arrived. I’m not opposed to change, but want to make sure the change is effective. Perhaps I will be more trusting of our city council’s decisions, when we’ve elected an entirely new council.

I already realized that city money was not used for this purchase, but still expected wise decisions to be made with grant money. No, I have never seen another transportation system use the “sawtooth” curb. But, all the previous I have used were larger, with transportation plazas or intermodal facilities. I have never liked the city hall location, and had always hoped that SLO would have adopted an off street transit center for SLO Transit and RTA like was once proposed on north Higuera street.

Again, I likely won’t trust the council’s next big spend ($440,000.00 for a restroom at santa rosa park) until I get more facts. Thanks for being civil, and thanks for the information.

No one can ask more than to keep an open mind and people can certainly have differences without being disagreeable.

This bus really is a good fit for SLO Transit and I think it will win over the skeptics when it has a chance to show off its ability to carry heavy loads.

Regarding the off street transit plaza the City is participating in a joint project with SLORTA and with SLOCOG as the lead agency to update the first study (NARF). Participants are in the process of reviewing bids for the consultant who will assist in the study. More to follow……

It appears that a double deck bus in New York crashed into a bridge yesterday killing four. All because the driver chose to change course at the last minute, and didn’t notice that he was approaching a bridge that only had 10′ clearance. Story link:

I’m really getting tired of seeing propaganda from places like Los Angeles, London and Singapore. I don’t vote for our city council members because they make decicions based on what cities that are 7-20 times larger than San Luis Obispo do. What ever happened to the good ol’ days when San Luis Obispo tried so hard to be just like Carmel? I think most of our leaders today are SoCal refugees, who want to change SLO into thier ideal of what L.A. and Orange counties should have become.

And I want to know if the people posting the propaganda here work for the city, or are consultants for the city – thus posting here on city time, or city consultant charges. I think that should warrant an investigation.

While certainly a tragic accident it hardly bears any connection to the SLO operation. The accident was most likely due to driver error as the bus was on its way to Toronto, Canada, from Pennsylvania. The accident occurred around 2:30 a.m.on the Onondaga Lake Parkway in Salina, a Syracuse suburb and probablly took a wrong turn.

SLO Transit only operates in the City of SLO and using drivers hired and trained locally and not much chanceof ending up near the Highland Ave RR overpass when driving routes 4 &5.

In addition the bus has a GPS based safety avoidance system that provides the driver with an audible warning when approaching a low clearance area.

The only “propaganda” seems to be from those that have apparantly never actually taken a ride on a City bus.

Where did you read about the GPS system? Was that in any of the press releases?

Wow, I didn’t know that the model SLO purchased had the GPS system. I didn’t see that in any of the public articles. You must really know your buses. I myself have been a public transit enthusiast since I was a kid. I ride SLO Transit on occasion,but never 4&5 during morning rush. I do use RTA quite frequently. My job sends me to the bay area frequently, where I stay in Millbrae and take BART into the city – where I transfer to muni and muni metro as needed. But to me the double deck bus just seems like another one of San Lus Obispo’s new toys justified. A $1 million ladder truck for buildings we have not built, an $850k double deck bus, and soon to come: a new $440,000.00 public restroom for santa rosa park. Just in time when economists have declared a “double dip” recession (aka: a depression).

SLO children at play:

Perhaps taking a trip on routes 4 &5 when your schedule allows and when Cal Poly is in session would give you a new updated perspective? ON trial runs using a Double Deck in 2008 many trips exceeded 100 passengers on route #4.

If you frequently use Bart & MUNI then as posted below you would know they are evaluating Double Deck buses on their busy routes. (And they cant operate on all of their routes either)

Despite requests on multiple posts no one is able to answer the question a s to what high capacity alternate vehicle that can operate immediately on SLO Transit routes should have been purchased? Articulated (Bendy buses) would require huge amounts of Captial funding to redesign SLO Bus stops and an addition to the transit facitity maintenance bays.

The bus is very functional, will operate on 55-60 round trips per week and definitly NOT a “toy”. AND no City General funds were used for the purchase. It was 90% Federal Transit Administration (FTA) with Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and Prop 1B Capital Bond funds for the local match.

Well, I admit I am better informed now than before. I’ll give the bus resonable amount of time before I b*tch about it further (or not). Thank you transituser for the debate, and for the info.


We need a new city council…

And we need to eliminate staff shills like “transituser.”

This expensive bus that’s costly to maintain that cannot be used on all routes is a boondoggle.

The rest is noise.

AHHHHH so when you can’t debate the facts the last act us usually to resort to name calling or is that just an example of your famous critical thinking?

As stated below regarding you having the gear for a debate on transit issues you can’t hold a battle if wits with an unarmed person.


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More focus on the story and facts at hand, less focus on other users please,

prosecutorial derail removed

More focus on the story and facts at hand, less focus on other users please,

prosecutorial derail removed,

It would seem entirely appropriate to comment on other agency experiences in that some question it is somehow not suited for public transportation.

As for facts much has been offered already but will probably not convince the self proclaimed experts.

As for the use of articulated bused in slo reading the posts below should settle the argument that not suited for slo transit routed.


Given the questions regarding whether a double desk bus isa good choice for public transportation it would seem entirely appropriate to provide other agency experiences.

The so called “story” above was poorly written with numerous inaccuracies.

Also the suggestions that somehow articulated buses are more suitable ignores the obvious in that a sixty foot bus cannot fit into SLO transit bus stops that are designed for a forty foot bus. The main transfer point at the Downtown Transit Center outside City Hall uses head in parking (Sawtooth) and at least 15′ of an articulated bus would stick out into the travel lane on Osos.

Alot of information and facts have been presented but will probablly not satisfy the self style transit “experts”