Spin Control

A mass transit, double-decker bus in Spokane?

At last week’s Planning, Community and Economic Development committee meeting, Spokane city planning director Scott Chesney was discussing the Larry H. Miller empire and its request to temporarily shut down some streets while the car dealer did some re-arrangement.

Not exciting stuff.

Then, off-handedly, Chesney told committee members that it was important to keep the Jefferson Street viaduct open during this work because it was the only railroad bridge tall enough to accommodate the double-decker bus that the Spokane Transit Authority was thinking about bringing into its fleet.

Wait. What?

With visions of those huge, red buses that ply the streets of London dancing through our heads, we called up STA.

“They were looking at it for the EWU route because ridership has skyrocketed,” said Molly Myers, STA’s spokeswoman. “It was just an idea to be able to double capacity. That is a suggestion that came up during our planning process during brainstorming. It never got to that level of specificity.”

So we let it lie. Until Monday, when we saw this.

A double-decker bus just across the river from downtown Spokane. It turns out it was just a prototype parked outside of the 2013 symposium and vendor expo for the Washington State Public Transit Association, which took place at the Red Lion at the Park this week.

Still, all of it was too much of a coincidence to let pass by, so we did a little reporting.

First, at 14 feet, four inches, the Jefferson viaduct isn’t the tallest viaduct downtown. That distinction belongs to the Washington Avenue viaduct, which has a clearance of more than 15 feet. Jefferson’s the second highest, and all the others are right around there, between 11’8’’ and 14’2’’.

(Click here to see every bridge clearance in the city.)

Second, this spring STA held some open houses discussing the possibility for a “Cheney High Performance Transit Corridor” that would replace Route 66 Cheney/EWU. At that point, STA said that routes serving West Plains had a 20 percent increase in ridership from 2009 to 2012, providing 1.5 million rides in 2012.

Riders with eagle passes – the student faculty and staff of EWU – increased in even greater numbers. In 2007, 540,000 riders had eagle passes. In 2012, almost 945,000 riders did.

To keep pace with such growth, STA offered two alternatives for the high performance corridor. The first would add earlier and later trips to the route, and called for building a West Plains Transit Center, but otherwise things remained the same.

The second option recommended called for the same, plus a double-decker bus and improvements to the Cheney terminal and the parking lot below Interstate 90 on Jefferson, the bus’ Spokane stop. 

Yes, Option B was much more expensive but it featured a double-decker bus. Which is awesome.

As for the double-decker bus that was actually in Spokane, it’s an Alexander Dennis Enviro 500, of British make. The tallest Enviro 500 is 14.1 feet tall. Transit authorities from Snohomish County to Quebec City use them, or similar buses. Community Transit in Snohomish has 23 double-deckers, which can seat almost 80 passengers with more room for standing.

The double tall buses can reportedly cost up to $900,000. Normal coaches run about $550,000. But even STA’s biggest buses, the articulated ones that slither through town, seat less than 60 people.

All of this adds up to one, heartbreaking conclusion: Don’t expect any double-decker buses in town any time soon.

Still...

“Stay tuned,” said Myers, the STA spokeswoman. “I say never say never, but I can’t say yes or no. We’re not done. This is a process we’re still in the middle of.”




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Nicholas Deshais




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