TTC bus riders may soon get some breathing room during their overcrowded commutes, thanks to new 60-foot articulated buses that will hit the city's busiest routes by 2014.
The TTC decided to order the extra-long accordion-style buses during the 2012 budget deliberations, but information posted to the commission's website indicates a $24.3-million contract for the vehicles was awarded to Quebec-based Nova Bus Corp. last week.
Pending the approval of the contract award at the TTC's next board meeting on September 27, Nova will be responsible for supplying 153 of the vehicles starting as early as next year.
The corporation is headquartered in St.-Eustache, QC and is part of the Volvo company. It built buses for the TTC in the late 90s, but has also supplied vehicles for the Chicago Transit Authority and New York City's Metro Transit Authority.
TTC spokesperson Brad Ross says the long vehicles will help the commission cut costs by reducing the number of buses it runs on jam-packed bus lines, while also improving service.
"You save money on maintenance and capital costs on the bus fleet, you save money on operating costs because you need fewer operators, but you're also able to deal with some capacity issues," he says.
Although Ross says a detailed plan of where the buses will be deployed has yet to be worked out, commission staff have identified the 29 Dufferin, 7 Bathurst, 116 Morningside, 25 Don Mills, 36 Finch West, and 85A Sheppard lines as priorities.
On Finch alone, the articulated buses are expected to save the commission $1 million annually.
Because the long buses have a maximum capacity of 112 passengers - nearly double the 65 riders on current 40-foot models - Ross says they will run a little less frequently, meaning wait times at stops could be slightly longer than they are now.
"You may have to wait longer but your more apt to be able to get on a bus and board faster," says Ross.
The TTC is looking at how to improve loading times on the articulated buses by implementing a proof-of-payment system that would allow riders to board at all three of the vehicles' doors. Currently, passengers can only enter the doors at the front of TTC buses.
While the new buses may be roomier, they will also be less environmentally friendly than some of the TTC's current fleet, roughly a third of which is made up of diesel-electric hybrids. In 2008 the commission decided to stop buying more hybrids after it discovered batteries on more than 550 of the "smart energy" buses died too quickly.
The articulated buses will be "clean diesel" vehicles instead.
The TTC is hoping the Nova order will work out better than its only previous experiment with articulated buses. Dozens of 60-foot vehicles received from a Soviet-era Hungarian company in the late 1980s had to be prematurely retired due to corrosion problems. The last one was decommissioned in 2003.