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Air rules may sideline beloved old double-decker bus in Davis

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  • 12/13 Davis Enterprise
    Published Thursday, December 13, 2007, by the Davis Enterprise Air rules may force a double-decker bus into retirement By Sharon Stello Enterprise staff writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2007
      Published Thursday, December 13, 2007, by the Davis Enterprise

      Air rules may force a double-decker bus into retirement

      By Sharon Stello
      Enterprise staff writer

      One of the London double-deckers used by Unitrans when the bus
      service started in 1968 -- and possibly the last of its kind still
      in revenue service in the world today -- will make its final trip
      through Davis with its original engine Friday.

      In coming months, Unitrans officials must decide whether to convert
      the engine and transmission or retire the vintage bus to preserve
      as a museum piece. Another original double-deck bus is receiving an
      engine upgrade now.

      The change was needed for Unitrans, operated by the Associated
      Students of UC Davis, to meet new emissions requirements taking
      effect Dec. 31. Several options were considered, but it was
      determined that taking the oldest buses out of service or
      refurbishing them was the only way to achieve goals set by the
      Air Resources Board.

      And so, double-decker bus No. 1014 will make its last trip powered
      by the original engine Friday. The bus will run the G Line, leaving
      the UCD Memorial Union at 3:25 p.m., driving out Russell Boulevard,
      up Anderson Road, across Alvarado Avenue, up Sycamore Lane and back
      along the same route, returning to the MU at about 3:50 p.m.

      "It's going to be very nostalgic for me," said Geoff Straw, general
      manager of Unitrans, who worked as a driver and conductor on bus No.
      1014 when he was a UCD student in the 1980s. In fact, his first shift
      was on that bus.

      Straw said No. 1014's final run will be a real passing "for the bus
      nerds among us." The red double-decker still displays destinations
      such as "Liverpool Landing Station," "Penny Lane" and "Abbey Road"
      on the front. Straw said people come from England and all over to
      take pictures of the double-deckers. It's a novelty for visitors
      and residents alike.

      "I think it's sort of iconic," Straw said. "How many people graduate
      from a university and say, 'I rode double-decks'? It's unique."

      Tom Matoff, a public transportation consultant who lives between
      Davis and Winters, was the conductor on bus No. 1014's maiden voyage
      as a UCD student in 1968.

      "This is kind of a token of the early days of Unitrans," he said,
      adding that the real triumph is how this student-run bus service has
      continued all these years.

      Unitrans, which now employs about 225 students and 14 career staff,
      carries about 3.2 million riders per year. The bus service celebrates
      its 40th anniversary in February.

      In addition to his conductor job, Matoff was the first manager of
      Unitrans, hiring the initial drivers and conductors to get the bus
      service up and running. Matoff said forming Unitrans was "a very
      far-sighted move" by student leaders at the time, as there was no
      other bus service in Yolo County.

      "1014 is sort of part of Davis civic history," Matoff said.

      He recalled picking up the first passenger at Antioch Drive and Oak
      Avenue. The main terminal back then was in the Young Hall parking
      lot. And there were only two lines: A and B. Matoff said he may come
      out on Friday to see if he can take the reins of No. 1014 one last

      No. 1014 refers to the bus' original production number. The London
      Transport bus is an RTL, an RT model with a Leyland chassis.

      An e-mail to Matoff from the London Transport Museum said, "It is
      very likely that this is the last RTL in regular service anywhere in
      the world" but it's "very difficult to verify" because the double-
      deckers were sold to countries all over the world as London phased
      them out.

      Straw said No. 1014, built in 1950, is the last in the Unitrans fleet
      to run with the old engine and pre-select transmission, which falls
      somewhere between manual and automatic transmission. Drivers use
      their left hand to select gears with a lever and then press a foot
      pedal to fully shift gears.

      Anthony Palmere, assistant general manager of Unitrans, noted that
      only the most experienced drivers are allowed to drive the double-
      deck buses with this type of transmission.

      "We consider the bus to be an heirloom," Straw said.

      Unitrans has six double-deck buses. One has been converted to run
      on compressed natural gas and another is tagged for this conversion.
      Newer engines have been installed in two double-deckers. Another two
      had the original engine and pre-select transmission -- No. 742, now
      in the shop to receive a new engine and transmission (the new engine
      won't work with the old transmission), and No. 1014, whose fate will
      be decided soon.

      Palmere said Unitrans staffers didn't feel as sentimental about
      No. 742 because it already had modern windows and other parts.

      "1014 is as original as can be," Straw said.

      Even the window handles are authentic. Straw said they have robbed
      parts from the other double-deck buses to keep No. 1014 in original

      Straw said it cost about $30,000 to replace the engine and
      transmission of No. 742. Unitrans covered the cost with federal
      funding and money from the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management
      District. He said there's enough funding to upgrade No. 1014, too.

      The work is done at the Unitrans shop on campus, in between other
      projects. No. 742 went into the shop at the end of summer and will
      be back in service in a couple of months.

      Straw said he's leaning toward installing a modern engine in No. 1014
      since the bus' capacity is needed to meet ridership demands. However,
      it would be nice to keep it in original condition.

      Straw said Unitrans leaders will talk with the Air Resources Board
      about options for keeping the bus in service and plan to make a
      decision by March. A waiver is available for buses running under
      1,000 miles per year. No. 1014 runs 3,000 to 5,000 miles per year.

      In February 2000, the Air Resources Board adopted the Fleet Rule for
      Transit Agencies and more stringent exhaust emission standards for
      new "urban buses." Requirements were later added for smaller transit
      fleet vehicles, including the double-deckers. Each year, agencies
      were required to meet lower and lower levels.

      By Dec. 31 of this year, they must reach a fleet average of 3.2 grams
      of nitrogen oxide (a smog-forming compound) per hour of operation.
      Currently, with bus No. 1014, Unitrans is at 3.5 grams of nitrogen
      oxide per hour. Without the bus, it will drop to 3.1 grams per hour,
      Palmere said.

      Straw said Unitrans is dedicated to reducing its impact on the
      environment and must balance the nostalgia of these older buses
      with the reality of air pollution.

      "We made a commitment very early on to clean up our fleet," Straw
      said. "Over 90 percent of our miles are operated on natural gas.
      We have a real responsibility. We have to be stewards of the air."

      Perhaps the bus could be maintained for special occasions such as
      the Picnic Day Parade and weddings, but Straw said another person
      or agency would need to take charge of such an endeavor. It would
      be too difficult for Unitrans to keep drivers trained on this old
      double-decker when it's not in regular service.

      In deciding whether to keep running the bus, there are other factors
      to consider. As they get older, parts wear out and it's difficult to
      find replacements. For example, the rear axles are starting to break
      down. Unitrans mechanics must take axles off dump trucks and other
      kinds of old buses.

      In the late 1970s and early '80s, Unitrans almost had to get rid of
      the double-deckers, but then-maintenance manager Wally Mellor was
      able to make contacts in England and find parts to keep them running.

      There are problems with the double-deckers beyond their aging parts.
      They are not accessible to people with disabilities. And there's no
      air-conditioning, so they aren't operated during hot summer months.

      They require a lot of maintenance and two people to operate, which
      means a greater cost. (The driver sits in a separate compartment and
      has no contact with passengers. The conductor collects fares, lets
      the driver know where passengers want to stop and holds the orange
      flag to let riders safely enter and exit.)

      Unitrans is looking into buying new types of double-deck buses,
      like the ones used in Las Vegas. Straw acknowledged that old-style
      double-deckers eventually will disappear from Davis streets.

      "It's inevitable that there's a day we won't have double-decks,"
      Straw said.

      Reach Sharon Stello at sstello@... or 530-747-8043.

      [BATN: See also:

      SF Muni testing double-decker bus; riders give it high marks

      SF Muni begins testing European low-floor double-decker bus
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36789 ]
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