By WIll Reisman, @WillReisman
Anyone interested in riding around like a king for a day doesn’t need an armored escort or a gold-plated Mercedes. They just have to hop on one of SamTrans’ new 29-foot miniature coaches.
The Gillig-manufactured vehicles are smaller than the average bus and feature a slightly different interior, the most notable disparity being a three-seat section above the front wheel well that is elevated high above the floor. While perched on those seats, a passenger could almost picture themselves sitting like a king on a throne, provided they can stretch their imagination a bit…ok, maybe a lot.
The regal seating is one of several interesting quirks on the 29-foot buses, which are much easier for drivers to maneuver, and are particularly helpful for navigating through the narrow streets of dense residential neighborhoods.
Piotrkowski said it takes much less effort to make right-hand turns and to change lanes in the buses.
“There are things that I can do on this bus that I definitely couldn’t do with our other buses,” said Piotrkowski, who drives SamTrans Route 281, which traverses between the Palo Alto Transit Center and the Onetta Harris Community Center in Menlo Park, passing through mostly residential neighborhoods along its way. “These are pretty state-of-the-art vehicles.”
In 2010, SamTrans first experimented with using 29-foot buses, deploying them for service on Route 17, which travels along the Pacific Coast. Based on the results of that pilot, SamTrans opted to purchase 16 new 29-foot buses for the rest of the system, with the first batch of the vehicles making their debut on November 1. The buses are currently operating on the following routes: 130, 133, 140, 141, 280, 281 and 295. They’re likely to be added to Routes 251, 252 and 256 in the near future.
Unlike other SamTrans buses, the 29-foot coaches do not have a back door, but they have all the other amenities, like a bike rack, wheelchair ramp, and regular assortment of grab straps for passengers. The buses can hold a maximum of 15 standing passengers and 26 seated ones. Piotrkowski said he’s noticed that passengers are still getting used to the ultra-elevated seats above the front right wheel well.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of people sitting up there so far,” said Piotrkowski. “Sometimes I have to let people know it’s ok to use those seats. Maybe they’re worried they’re reserved for someone special.”