Agency will buy 70 diesel buses as part of new program

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - TriMet's new buses will replace older models in the agency's fleet.TriMet unveiled the first of 70 new diesel buses it will put into service this year on Monday.

The six 40-foot-long buses are part of an accelerated replacement program approved by the TriMet board of directors in 2012 to address the transit agency’s aging fleet, which has become less reliable and more expensive to maintain over the years.

“One of my top priorities during my tenure is to reinvest in our system. Accelerating the bus purchase schedule furthers TriMet’s mission to provide valued transit service that is safe, dependable and easy to use,” says TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane.

The unveiling came days after the state Employment Relations Board upheld the labor contract requiring union employees to pay more of their health care costs. The contract had been imposed by a state-appointed arbitrator in 2012, after negotiations between TriMet and Amalgamated Transit Union 757 broke down. Although ERB ordered TriMet not to collect back health care payments from the union members, the contract will remain in effect until a new one is approved.

The ERB ruling means TriMet will not have to cut service or raise fares this year. McFarlane says the agency will face a financial crisis within a few years if the union does not agree to additional health care concessions, however. Union leaders dispute that. Negotiations on the next contract are scheduled to begin in September.

Retiring buses on priority list

TriMet had delayed buying replacement buses for several years because of its financial problems. As a result, some buses in the fleet are more than 18 years old. The industry standard is eight years. TriMet plans to meet that standard by 2016 — and to have replaced all older “high floor” buses with newer “low floor” ones that are easier for the handicapped to access.

The new buses are referred to and numbered the 3100-series. They are manufactured by Gillig, which is based in Hayward, Calif. The buses cost $413,000 each and will be distributed between two of TriMet’s garages, Merlo Garage in Beaverton and Center Street Garage in Southeast Portland. The new buses will replace buses that are highest on the retirement priority list.

TriMet will take delivery of three to five buses per week from Gillig for roughly 18 weeks this summer and fall. It will take TriMet staff two weeks to get each bus ready for service, including securing the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles title, license and registration.

As part of the accelerated replacement program, TriMet purchased 51 new diesel and four new hybrid buses last year. The 70 buses to be purchased this year mark the largest order in the program. TriMet will purchase 184 more buses over the next three years.

The new buses are being purchased with a mix of federal grants, general fund resources and payroll tax-backed revenue bond proceeds. The exact mix will depend on availability of federal grants, strength of payroll tax revenues and other bonding requirements. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - TriMet training supervisor Ken Jenson notes the adjustable drivers seat in the new generation of buses that TriMet showed off on Monday.

Easier to board

In addition to being newer and less expensive to maintain, TriMet says they have several advantaged over most existing buses. Among other things, they get better mileage and have lower floors for easier boarding, standard air conditioning, automatic stop announcements, easy-to-clean vinyl seats and interior surfaces, larger windows, improved windshield visibility for drivers, next-generation GPS dispatch and tracking systems, and higher quality digital cameras, with better image quality, hard drives and improved positioning.

The drivetrain includes a 2013 EPA compliant Cummins diesel engine that features a low-emission package designed to reduce tailpipe emissions. It incorporates Selective Catalytic Reduction technology, which scrubs nitrogen oxides and other hazardous particulates from the exhaust. Like all TriMet buses, it runs on a mix of 5 percent biodiesel blend and 95 percent ultra low sulfur diesel.

The transmission has a load-based shifting program that can tell when the bus is on a hill with a lot of riders, and shifts accordingly to match conditions. Testing has shown improved fuel economy.

Exterior features include a bright, easy-to-read LED overhead sign on the front of the bus, electric starters for quieter starts, automatic drop-down snow chains, brighter, energy-efficient LED headlights with cornering lights and turning signal lights on the mirrors for safety.

The new buses also have an innovative cooling system that was first tested and later refined at TriMet that improves fuel efficiency by 5 to 10 percent. Already in use on many of TriMet’s other buses, it uses an electrified subsystem instead of a hydraulic or mechanical fan, so it draws less power off the engine.

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