The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District is adopting a flexible approach toward overcrowding on its 15x and 24x bus lines with the new 112-passenger Nova “Smart Bus.”
The New York-made Nova — a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz — bus is 62 feet long, runs on diesel fuel and can hold 50 more passengers than MTD’s standard 40-foot buses. The Smart Bus compensates for its length with an articulated middle joint that allows it to bend as it travels around corners.
According to Kate Schwab, Santa Barbara MTD assistant manager of marketing and customer service, trial runs will continue for three more weeks until the city decides whether they will purchase several vehicles — costing roughly $650,000 each — to incorporate into their regular system.
“We hope that it is embraced by the community and that we get support from the community,” Schwab said. “When you think about this many people on a bus like that — it is a full bus. It takes about 70 cars off the road and gets [people to their destinations] efficiently. We are reducing our carbon footprint even more, and we feel very strongly about having these buses in our fleet.”
Schwab said bus drivers reported Smart Buses are more convenient and easier to turn than their stiff counterparts.
Securing funds for the vehicles requires support from city authorities and community members, according to Schwab.
“Obviously the costs, if we can get funding to pay for them,” Schwab said. “Also we want to hear feedback from City of Santa Barbara, we want to know if they are embracing the bus or not. We hope we have a lot of residential community support. We are a federally funded, so we would get money federally, probably by some kind of grants of other federal funding.”
UCSB Transportation Alternative Program Manager Jamey Wagner said “bendy” buses are designed to accommodate larger groups for approximately the same price.
“We want to serve as many people as cost effectively as possible,” Wagner said. “If this bus proves workable, then MTD will be able to serve more people using a similar number of buses, a similar number of drivers and similar economic resources — but with increased operational efficiency.”
Wagner said certain routes, such as the ones serving I.V. and UCSB, can become so crammed that the MTD is forced to send extra “booster” buses as a costly alternative to prevent commuter delays.
Elana Miranda Fernandez, a first-year business major at SBCC, said MTD delays frequently disrupt her daily commute.
According to Fernandez, passengers are sometimes required to squeeze into the vehicle or risk getting left behind.
“One time, there were so many people in this bus that people were leaning on the door,” Fernandez said. “The driver was an ex-marine and said that they never leave a man behind, so he tried squeezing everyone in and so there were literally people sitting next to him, and on the door.”
First-year UCSB English major Justin Astorino said the “bendy” buses would significantly improve the public transportation’s quality.
“There are also times when I have to stand up because buses are too full, and it can get hot and gross when there are too many people standing around, and it can also be hard to balance when buses are stopping and going so abruptly,” Astorino said. “It would greatly benefit students such as myself if bus size or seat capacity were doubled.”