Ottawa

Transit commission approves double-deck bus buy

Ottawa's transit commission approved a plan to add 75 double-decker buses to the city's fleet Thursday, but a demonstration of wheelchair accessibility on the buses showed several flaws that need to be addressed.
OC Transpo showed off one of its new double-decker buses Thursday. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Ottawa's transit commission approved a plan to add 75 double-decker buses to the city's fleet Thursday, but a demonstration of wheelchair accessibility on the buses showed several flaws that need to be addressed.

The new bus purchase, expected to cost around $80 million, was approved as part of the transit commission's draft budget for 2011. The budget also includes proposed route changes and a fare increase, although the price of OC Transpo's U-Pass will not increase for students.

OC Transpo head Alain Mercier said the taller vehicles can carry 90 passengers — double what older buses of similar length can carry — and would allow all but eight people to sit down.

"The clear message we're getting from riders is that standing on a long distance express ride is an inconvenience for them," said Mercier as he gave a guided tour of one of the buses.

But during the demonstration, disability advocate Daniel Oickle rode his wheelchair up the ramp and began to fall backward before CBC's Cory O'Kelly caught him. The ramp had lowered to the ground — and not to the height of a sidewalk as it normally would — making it a steeper climb, Oickle said.

Disability advocate Daniel Oickle, right, said the double-decker buses need improvements. ((CBC))

Oickle told councillor David Chernushenko the buses provided a roomier seat for people riding in wheelchairs, but said the seatbelts designed to keep wheelchairs steady were too low and too short to be of use during the ride.

Chernushenko said the input was valuable for the city.

"If you want to make improvements you've got to speak to people who experience it everyday," said Chernushenko. "It's the kind of thing where surely we can find a way to create a better seatbelt."

Draft budget needs city council OK

The transit commission's draft budget will now be voted on by Ottawa's city council.

Mercier said if everything is approved, the new buses would arrive in 2012 and be used on express routes.

OC Transpo had been running a pilot project using three of the buses.

Other transit authorities are unable to buy double-deckers because of height restrictions on many roads.

Ottawa, on the other hand, has only two places where double-deckers won't be allowed: on the Queensway under Maitland Avenue, and under the railtrack at Carleton University.

OC Transpo's bus purchase would give it the second largest fleet of two-storey buses in North America, trailing only Las Vegas.