Double-decker buses have a rich history in Davis

By From page C4 | February 8, 2012

Special to The Enterprise

Unitrans will forever be known for the London doubledeckers that the Associated Students of UC Davis purchased and brought here from London in 1968 to start a bus system.

Over the years, Unitrans added 10 more of the vintage doubledeckers — along with dozens of modern, single-deck buses to carry an ever-increasing number of passengers on a system in which the city of Davis is now a partner.

And while a few of the London doubledeckers are still in service, this year Unitrans purchased two brand-new doubledeckers — shiny, sleek and modern in every way, with wheelchair access and air-conditioning. These amenities were not available on the old buses.

The new buses, each costing $813,000, including tax, went into service in the spring, and are due back in the fall when classes resume.

“Riders love the comfort of the new buses and the large windows,” said Anthony Palmere, assistant general manager of Unitrans. “They are also much easier to drive.”

For one thing, they are left-hand drive, compared with the right-hand drive (British-style) in the vintage buses.

The new buses are slightly shorter in height (14 feet), but they are wider and longer (81/2 feet by 40 feet), the same as a single-deck bus.

Each doubledecker has 81 seats (double the number on a single-deck bus), with standing room for 20 more people.

The vintage buses carry 64 people. When exiting from the front or rear, passengers step off into the street — remember, these buses are from England, where people drive on the other side of the road.

As a safety precaution, a conductor rides at the back of each vintage doubledecker and acts as a flagger when people are exiting the bus into the street.

The new doubledeckers have curbside exits at the front and rear. Nevertheless, Unitrans is putting a conductor on each of the new buses.

“The conductor is there for consistency in scheduling our staff — since a vintage bus could be substituted at the last minute — and to allow for faster boarding through both the front and rear doors,” Palmere said.

As much as people may like the comfort of the new buses, and even with their improved drivability and safety, Palmere said, “They do not have the friendly and iconic look of the vintage buses.”

The Unitrans doubledeckers are Regent models, which became available when London started switching to Routemasters in the 1960s. By 2005, London had replaced all of its Routemasters with modern doubledeckers, Palmere said. “But people missed the old buses, and they were eventually brought back to run on Heritage Routes.”

There is no need for heritage routes in Davis, as you will still see the old buses when school is in session, primarily on these two high-volume lines:

* E-line: downtown, F and J streets; and

* F-line: Oak Avenue, Alvarado Avenue (east) and Catalina Drive.

The new doubledeckers run on these high-volume routes:

* B-line: Wake Forest Drive, Sycamore Lane and Drake Drive; and

* G-line: Anderson Road, Alvarado Avenue (west) and Sycamore Lane (north)

The 2010 doubledeckers are Enviro500 models from Alexander Dennis Ltd. in the United Kingdom, with final assembly in Riverside. They run on clean diesel, because there is no room for compressed natural gas tanks on top of the buses or under the buses.

Palmere said Unitrans plans to keep its 1948, 1952 and 1954 doubledeckers in service; two of these run on clean diesel, the other on compressed natural gas.

He credited career and student mechanics with keeping the buses in regular service for more than 40 years — twice as long as they ran in London.

Dave Jones

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