Phileas woes in Istanbul.
Many politicians are calling for Bus Rapid Transit, but really haven’t a clue what they are talking about. Internationally, BRT describes guided buses and/or large busway networks, but in Vancouver, BRT tends to mean B-Line style, limited stop, bus service. What is quietly forgotten is that BRT has not, except in third world countries where there are little affordable alternatives, fared well. Even Ottawa’s famed busways saw over a 14% drop in ridership in the first decade of operation resulting in Ottawa’s transit officials switch from BRT to LRT. The following is from a transit specialist who belongs to the LRTA.
In ‘Buses’ magazine, there an article about the Dutch Phileas buses (BRT) on the Istanbul BRT system. These are virtually brand new (not even two years old) 26 metre double-articulated parallel-type diesel hybrid vehicles which feature doors on both sides.
It seems that despite their young age most of the fleet of 50 have already had to be taken out of service with major problems which include difficulties in climbing a steep hill and breakages to the vehicles’ suspension system. The matter is so serious that it has even been discussed in Parliament.
Apparently the hill climbing issue is that the buses are designed to climb a 2.5% gradient at 40km/h, but the people of Istanbul see this as being too slow / want them to do so more quickly. The word on the street is that the buses were designed to run in a flat country (like Holland) and are not suitable for locations where heavily loaded buses are required to climb even gentle hills. Wondering aloud, I’d suggest that this is a question of available power, and that they should trial direct electric traction (trolleybus) as a way to improve their climbing speed – although not knowing the road configuration I cannot know for sure if this would be the whole solution.
The problems with the suspension seem to have been caused by overcrowding. As we know, buses normally have a maximum capacity limit on the number of passengers allowed to travel; these vehicles were designed to carry up to 230 passengers – although at peak times loads of 280 are often carried. As a contrast with steel rail transports (trains, trams, streetcars, etc) it often happens that at the busiest times the sheer numbers of people travelling will see them ‘packed in like sardines in a tin can’. It seems that the same has been happening with the Phileas buses, especially when there are football (soccer) matches at a stadium along the route the buses serve.
In the meantime the fleet of 200 CapaCity and other buses are having to work extra hard to cover for these buses – and plans to buy 50 more Phileas buses have been put on hold.
According to Wikipedia the buses breaking down also caused severe problems because of the single-track nature of their dedicated right of way, blocking it so that other passes could not pass.