Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I am glad to see the high-floor buses go

A few weeks ago, photos started popping up on various websites and blogs of the old TransLink-owned New Flyer D40 and D60 buses being dismantled and demolished around Annacis Island. For the uninitiated, these were the high-floor buses that came to the Vancouver area in the early 1990s. Since they came into being, new technology allowed low-floor buses to exist and these new buses, like most other new gadgets, eventually got more love and popularity than the old low-floor buses; today, most of the TransLink bus fleet is of the low-floor variety.

Good riddance.

There are many reasons why I didn't like the high-floor buses. One reason is that they appear to eat up fuel much quicker than their low-floor counterparts; you can tell simply by hearing how hard the engine has to work to move the bus forward a single meter. Another reason is because one of them held me hostage at one point.

It was during my days as a student at UBC. I was on a high-floor bus going up Granville Street towards downtown Vancouver. My plan was to get off at Broadway to switch to a 99 B-Line bus (or a trolley bus if that failed). It was during rush hour, which meant a mixed blessing in Vancouver -- more buses available but also more traffic to contend with.

As most of you are aware, before the Canada Line kicked in, Granville Street at Broadway was one of the most major transit transfer points in Vancouver. So, as evil high-floor buses tend to do, it did something that I really dreaded.

It held me hostage.

What happened? Well, some background information first: high-floor buses offer wheelchair accessibility in the form of a lift, rather than a flip-out ramp like low-floor buses. The lift uses hydraulics, whereas the flip-out ramp is, well, a simple flip-out mechanism. Unlike the lift, the flip-out ramp can be manually flipped out by hand if it is malfunctioning.

So right at the busy bus stop on Granville Street at Broadway, the lift decided to quit. It would stretch out to the sidewalk and go up like it was supposed to, but it wouldn't go down. Wonderful. So on a bus full of commuters during morning rush hour, it froze up like a stage performer caught with his fly open.

The worst part was that I wasn't the only person needing to get off via the lift at that stop; the other passenger needed to get off also. But the lift wasn't moving and the bus wasn't going anywhere. The passengers on the bus were forced to get off and continue their journey on another bus (thankfully the 98 B-Line was still in existence at the time, so they didn't have to wait long) while the other passenger and I were on the bus wondering what to do next.

Another driver, who was off-duty and passing by, came along and the two drivers did everything they could. They kicked at the lift. They fiddled with it. They swore at it. The only thing that they didn't try was make an animal sacrifice to honor the sacred transit god of El Diesel McNovaBus. Eventually a transit supervisor arrived. It seemed like we might have to have the bus towed away or something when the lift suddenly worked!

Of course, it did so after I realized I was going to be massively late for class no matter what.

Did I mention the lift was a stupid pain in the [bleep] piece of [bleep]?

This is the main reason why I stopped trusting high-floor buses. The mechanism for their lifts is pretty complex and if one piece fails, the whole thing might not work. Considering how many moving piece there are, it's easy to see how something might go wrong.

The only vehicles in the TransLink system still using the same lift mechanism are the high-floor Orion V buses that operate on Highway 99 to Delta, South Surrey and White Rock. Those buses are much newer but I hope they don't run into the same problems. (Community shuttles have lifts too but it appears to be a different mechanism.)

Good bye, D40 and D60 high-floors. May your lifts actually work in the afterlife, so I can actually get around there too.


  1. Can't some people get together and just lift you and your chair off?

  2. Theoretically, yes. But that's probably not even allowed (due to liability issues), not to mention it'd be entirely demeaning.