Different from the moment you step in: TriMet’s 55 new buses (Photos)

If you’re lucky enough to swing onboard one of TriMet’s 55 newest buses this fall – it’s about 9 percent of the agency’s fleet, its first bus purchase in three years – you’ll know.

The inside of these 42-foot Gillig-built vehicles is bathed in light:

white interior

This will be because the windows are bigger, especially in the back, where they stretch almost from seat to ceiling. The lights are LEDs, not flickering fluorescents. The window frames are silver, not black. The seats are bright blue vinyl, not dark blue fabric. And the back wall and the inside of the doors are white, too:

white doors

Though I’ve no doubt this pristine look will eventually be customized by local pens, markers and pocketknives, I don’t think this’ll happen for a while. A sparkling new bus commands respect.

There are also some subtler upgrades coming in these buses, which TriMet is calling its “3000 series”. Check out the rows of LED lights along the back steps:

led steps

And, just to the right of the steps as you face the back of the bus, there’s a new floor heater that’ll push warm air forward underneath all the seats along the left side of the bus. Until now, TriMet’s low-floor buses have only had one floor heater, directly in front of the rear door on the right side of the bus.

left-side heater

Out in front of the bus is a feature intended to prevent crashes as buses turn, which is when a bus is at its deadliest. It’s a lamp that automatically rotates with the steering wheel to shine a beam of light at a diagonal, directly where the bus is about to move. In this shot, the lamp in question is in the upper left:

IMG_3684

I didn’t get a shot of the new buses’ access ramps, but they’re much less steep: their base slope has improved from 4:1 to 6:1, according to TriMet. Because these new buses will allow TriMet to phase out 55 of its 260 high-floor buses, the agency’s standard service bus lines will have many fewer chair lifts – which means fewer delays for all riders, especially people with disabilities.

The ride is noticeably quieter and smoother, too, thanks to a single reduction axle that will raise the rear seating section slightly but allows the 3000 series to use taller tires and fewer gears than previous low-floor models.

Here’s a feature of the new buses that some transit riders may not appreciate. The vertical handrails beside the doors include prominent red markings intended to capture the height of people involved in illegal activity:

vinyl seats

On our Facebook page last month, reader Matt Cleinman described these as “7-Eleven style height markers” and noted that “the illusion of unsafe transit might outweigh the benefits” of including these.

I asked TriMet officials to respond to Matt’s point Thursday. The last two or three rounds of TriMet bus orders have actually included height markers of some sort, they said.

Allen Morgan, TriMet’s head safety trainer, said the markings will mostly be used by people reviewing security camera footage after an incident.

“Look at all the cameras on this bus,” Morgan said. (The new ones have eight.) “It’s the way of the world.”

TriMet spokeswoman Kellie Randall also said she didn’t think the markings make passengers feel unsafe. “Do you feel unsafe in a convenience store?” she asked. “Just about any fast food joint has them.”

From curbside, the new buses don’t look radically different:

side of bus

Unless, that is, you’re looking at them from the front:

front of bus

From here, it’s easy to see how these new models make the bus operator and forward passengers part of the streetscape. Riding through downtown Portland in the prototype, I did something I’ve never done before—while standing in the aisle inside the bus, I smiled and made eye contact with a friend who happened to be walking on the sidewalk across the street.

TriMet is still road-testing this prototype, and doesn’t yet have a firm date when these will start hitting Powell Garage, except to say that it’ll be “before the fall.” Once TriMet gives the green light to begin production, the agency said, one new Gillig bus will be coming off the assembly line and heading to Portland every day.

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