High-floor accordion buses retired for greater accessibility
Claudia Fuglie remembers the last time she rode a high-floor city bus. It was in September of last year when she was on her way back from Hopkins.
Unlike the buses that run on the Twin Cities’ busiest routes today, those buses required people to climb a set of stairs to board. Because Fuglie is wheelchair-bound, the driver had to deploy a lift that brought her up several feet above the sidewalk so she could board.
“It surprised me when the ramps came down,” recounted Fuglie, who serves on the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee. “The driver had to help me up the ramp and back down. It was really narrow. And the aisle itself was just barely enough for my chair to come through.”
After years of operating in the Twin Cities transit landscape, Metro Transit in September became the last agency in the United States to retire the accordion-style buses, built in 2003 and 2006 by Winnipeg-based New Flyer. Referred to as the D60 model and nicknamed the Galaxy, the last one sold in May.
History in the making
Oscar Reyes, a transit bus driver in New York City, bought the last one and plans to bring it there to preserve it as is for future generations, although it may be painted in a New York transit scheme. “Growing up in NYC, the Galaxy was the sole articulated bus, and they hold a special place in my heart,” said Reyes, who won the bus for $5,225 in a bidding war on the State of Minnesota Surplus Services website Minnbid.
As Reyes and a friend prepared to drive bus #3200 out of the Martin J. Ruter Garage in Brooklyn Center on May 20, one year since it last ran in service, he received a call from another friend who said they were proud he was able to get his hands on a 2006 model, part of the last of their kind ever built.
Reyes isn’t alone, as he joins another private owner in Milwaukee who also won one built in the same year at a Minnbid auction. A Michigan-based logistics company won the bulk of the buses from both model years, with Jones Auto Sales in Hollandale, Minnesota, 85 miles south of Minneapolis, winning several 2003 models.
As Reyes and his friend drove it around Minneapolis, they mused at how clean and comfortable it was to ride and how smooth it shifted compared to a New York City bus. People passing the bus appear astounded, with one person crossing the street at 40th and Nicollet remarking, “It’s a naked bus,” referencing the Metro Transit decals covered over with white paint.
A more accessible fleet
For decades, Twin Cities transit commuters riding similar buses on routes such as the 5 risked missing a transfer or being late for work as they waited for their drivers to lift wheelchair passengers onboard. The lifts sometimes malfunctioned.
That began to change in the 1990s, when so-called low-floor buses were invented. These allow people to get on simply by stepping off the sidewalk or wheeling themselves up a ramp that flips out. Agencies across the nation, Metro Transit included, began to buy them because quicker boarding meant faster transit travel time. Also, having a ramp with fewer moving parts meant it was easier to maintain and could even be deployed by hand if it malfunctioned, meaning people with limited mobility could get on regardless, one way or another.
Despite low-floor buses comprising the bulk of the Twin Cities’ transit fleet, the work to make the system accessible is far from over. Metro Transit still runs coach buses on commuter routes that board wheelchairs on lifts, and the Metropolitan Council and its contractors continue to run van-sized buses with lifts on certain suburban routes.
Meanwhile, through a marketing and video campaign, the Transit Accessibility Advisory Committee is working with Metro Transit to ensure riders cede seats meant for the elderly and those with limited mobility, after incidents where wheelchair-bound passengers could not board because people sitting in the designated areas refused to move.
Both the Minnesota House and Senate had a provision in this session’s transportation bill requiring Twin Cities transit agencies to train their drivers to board and deboard passengers with disabilities after lobbying from TAAC members and organizations serving them. It was not enacted because both chambers failed to resolve their differences on other aspects of the bill before the legislative session adjourned.