UMass Transit Goes for Long Ride

Photos by Keegan Henckel-Miller and Meara Geraty

UMass Transit has added two new 60-foot, articulated buses to its fleet, increasing the service’s capacity on some key routes and boosting efficiency, according to Jeri Baker, director of transportation services.

While the vehicles with the accordion middles have been on local streets for several weeks while drivers learned to maneuver the longer vehicles, they were formally unveiled Sept. 5 during a media event at Haigis Mall near the Fine Arts Center.

Prior to the introduction of the buses, the North Amherst to Old Belchertown Road and Sunderland to South Amherst routes were experiencing congestion at busy stops, necessitating the use of  “tripper buses,” unscheduled units assigned to handle riders who couldn’t board the regular bus.

The first rule in public transportation, said Baker, is “you never want to leave anyone standing at a bus stop.”

By introducing the higher capacity buses at the beginning of the semester, she added the transit service hopes to avoid disappointing riders who might resort to other forms of transportation.

The new buses are hybrid-electric powered, giving them about a 25 percent boost in gas mileage over diesel. Tom Narrigan, general manager of Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, which provided UMass Transit with the buses. In addition, the buses will contribute to the well-being of UMass and the greater community because fewer buses are needed. 

The introduction of articulated buses has been in the works for four years, during which the PVTA applied for several demonstration grants, but with no success because the grants are primarily reserved for high population areas. However, the passage of a state transportation financing bill allowed PVTA to purchase four buses for around $4 million from New Flyer, a company based in Winnipeg.

Eighty percent of the cost was funded by the Federal Transit Administration and the remainder was covered by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The other two buses acquired by PVTA are being used on the Northampton-Amherst route.

Along with fuel efficiency and extra passenger capacity, there’s also the “cool factor,” said Baker.  The shiny, new models will entice more people to give public transportation a shot, she said, and eventually convince them to leave their cars in the garage. “I would hope everyone would take the opportunity to try them and see how great it is to ride them to and from this great institution,” said Baker.

Reported by Meara Geraty and Keegan Henckel-Miller