Back in 1996, it was seen as the biggest leap in Montreal transportation in decades. The STCUM was replacing the
General Motors … MCI … NovaBus Classic series with a new, revolutionary low-floor (LFS) bus being developed by St-Eustache-based NovaBus. The new buses would be more accessible, both for people with low mobility who would now have one step up instead of four, and people on wheelchairs who would have a ramp at the back door and a place to park their wheelchair safely.
NovaBus wasn’t the only low-floor player, nor were they the best. But they were Quebec-based, which meant it was politically favourable to buy from them and have the buses produced locally, and tax incentives made it much more economical to buy from them.
The problems with the bus began rather quickly. First, there was the minor issue of the brake lines freezing in winter, which caused them to accelerate when the brakes were applied. Then there was their propensity to randomly catch fire. And a host of other problems that mechanics are having to deal with: the wheelchair ramps don’t work (the STM still encourages use of their adapted transit network), the back-door sensor doesn’t work reliably, two seats in the front faced a wall behind the driver (causing clients to hit their heads when the bus came to a sudden stop).
But the STM kept buying the buses. 480 of them over three years. After that, the STM stopped buying buses due to budget constraints, and NovaBus revamped their design. The second-generation LFS buses, which the STM started buying in 2001, solved most of those problems, but there aren’t enough of them on the road to take the first batch (or for that matter, 6-7 years worth of Classics) out of service. So we’re stuck with them.
And the problems keep coming. For the past two days, about 60 of them were taken off the street for various problems, cutting service during rush hours by about 1 per cent. (via mtlweblog) It’s gotten so bad that the STM prefers using the older Classic buses longer than the first-generation LFS, since they’re still working fine.
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The other issue with these buses is they hold about 25% fewer passengers than their predecessors and have awkwardly designed seating arrangements, narrower walkway, and steps at the back which divide the space even further. Get one wheelchair or a couple baby strollers in there and people have trouble getting on and off the bus, stops take longer, and people fall over each other more often.
While accessibility is always the goal, these kind of compromises make it a negative gain. Particularly when the wheelchair lifts regularly fail.
The only people who would buy this bus for a Montreal, urban setting are people who never take the bus. That is, STM administration. Incompetent design, bought by incompetent managers.
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