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GO Transit's Double Decker Buses

by James Bow

GO Transit is well known for its double-decker passenger rail coaches, but for the first thirty-seven years of its bus operation (starting in 1970), GO Transit’s rubber tired vehicles were more conventional, single-level models. This changed in 2007, when GO Transit looked at double-decker buses as a means of increasing the passenger capacity of its major bus routes.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Double Decker Buses

Like articulated buses, or add-on trailers, double decker buses are a potential cost-savings measure for busy transit routes. The longer or taller buses pack in more passengers per vehicle. More passengers per driver means more revenues for costs incurred, and it enables transit agencies to serve more people while operating fewer vehicles. This also reduces congestion on particularly busy routes. Articulated buses and trailers accomplish this by adding space at the back of the bus. Double deckers do this by adding space on top. Assuming there was enough clearance beneath bridges along the route, a double-decker bus could carry two bus loads of passengers for less than the price of two buses.

Even though articulated buses proved more likely to have maintenance problems, they had one key advantage over double decker buses: there were more doors. Passengers could theoretically board or disembark from three sets of doors in an articulated bus, whereas passengers needed more time to pass through a double decker’s one or two sets of doors, and more time to navigate the stairway to get to and from their seats. For mass transit agencies in major cities offering frequent stops, the delays from this could be costly, but it was less of an issue for long distance commuter runs, where stops are fewer and farther between.

Double decker buses have long been in regular use in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. London is famous for its red Routemasters. Double Decker buses can also be found in Asia (especially Hong Kong), Australia, New Zealand, and in the countries of South America. Although double-decker buses were used in the early days of bus transportation in New York City and Toronto, their use fell out of favour, as a standard for single-decker buses was established by General Motors, especially with its New Look. Double decker buses would occasionally be found in North American cities, but these were typically limited to special sight-seeing buses (occasionally using double decker buses retired from the United Kingdom).

Double Decker Buses Return to Canada

Even though double decker buses were a rarity in North America, British transportation vehicle manufacturers were interested in cracking the marketplace. In 1984, Leyland Olympian brought over a demonstrator for a trade show in Washington DC. In 1986, the demonstrator was picked up by the City of Vancouver for use as a shuttle at Expo ‘86. The bus was later sold to Gray Line of Victoria, and then to Brampton Transit, where it was used in service. It would be the only bus of its kind in North America until the year 2000, when the Cities of Victoria, Kelowna and Ottawa, along with GO Transit, started to look seriously at double decker operation.

In the year 2000, the cities of Victoria and Kelowna imported buses from the United Kingdom as part of their regular transit service, operating through their downtowns and catering to locals and tourists alike. Ottawa’s OC Transpo started testing similar buses in July 2006, and found they were effective on the agency’s suburban-to-downtown express services, where large crowds of passengers were taken for long distances. Since 2009, nearly 100 have been acquired by the fleet.

What Makes Double Decker Buses Good For GO

For GO Transit, double decker buses offered the additional capacity of articulated buses without the additional maintenance cost of a longer chassis and articulation joint. The double decker buses were also better suited to GO Transit’s longer runs between stops. So, whereas local transit agencies like in Vancouver and Ottawa tended to prefer articulated buses, for Ottawa double decker buses were limited to longer run express routes. GO Transit has never operated articulated buses, but since 2007 has purchased 117 double decker buses for its fleet.

GO Transit’s first order for double decker buses was placed with Alexander Dennis Limited, a leading coach and bus manufacturer in the United Kingdom. The first of the twelve buses (numbered 8000 to 8011) started arriving in 2008. These buses were 43 feet long and 14 feet high, with enough seating for 78 passengers (46 on the top level and 32 on the bottom). The buses were also accessible, with wheelchair ramps allowing disabled passengers to use the lower level. This order was followed by another ten buses, numbered 8012 to 8021.

The height of these buses did limit their use, as not every bridge or underpass in the Greater Toronto Area offered sufficient clearance. This first order of double decker buses were limited to the routes of the 407 West corridor, specifically 45 (York University to Streetsville), 46 (York University to Oakville) and 48 (York University to the University of Guelph), as well as summer seasonal use to Niagara Falls on route 12.

Smaller Double Deckers GO Further

Although GO Transit was happy with how the double decker buses performed in service, they were still concerned with height clearances, and asked Alexander Dennis to shorten the next buses on order. In 2012, the first of 25 new buses (numbered 8101-8125) arrived, 43 feet long and 13 feet, 6 inches tall, short enough to allow its use on a number of other routes, including route 35 to Waterloo Region. However, GO Transit still had to be careful where these vehicles went. Before double-decker buses could be introduced to the Waterloo-Mississauga run, it had to move its stop at Kitchener’s downtown terminal from inside the terminal building to outside the front door on Charles Street. GO Transit felt that the pedestrian overpass in the terminal did not offer sufficient clearance for the double decker buses to operate.

Happy with the newer, shorter buses, GO expanded its order to add another 70 vehicles (numbered 8126-8195), and these were delivered in 2013 and into 2014. The buses were divided by even and odd numbers, with even numbered buses based out of garages in the western GTA. Western GTA buses operate on routes 12 (Niagara Falls), 15 (Lakeshore West), 20 (Milton-Oakville), 25 (Waterloo-Mississauga), 27 (Milton-North York), 29 (Guelph-Mississauga), 30&39 (Kitchener), 45 (Streetsville), 46 (York University-Oakville), 47 (407 West), and 48 (York University-University of Guelph). Those in the east operate out of Oshawa and Peterborough and can be found on routes 52 (407 East), 81 (Port Perry-Whitby), 88 (Peterborough-Oshawa), and 90&91 (Lakeshore East).

As part of their order in 2014, double-decker bus #8166 was celebrated as the 500th bus in GO Transit’s active fleet. The bus entered service on September 17, 2014 numbered as “500” instead of 8166, with a special “500th” sticker applied to the bus. A press conference and ribbon cutting complemented the hype.

In 2015, Metrolinx made an additional order with Alexander Dennis, purchasing 38 new “SuperLo” Enviro500 double decker buses. With the height now shaved to just 3.9 meters (12 feet, 9.625 inches), these buses were short enough to safely enter the bus terminals at Union Station and York Mills, granting them access to more of the network. The first deliveries of this class were made in the summer of 2016.

Current Roster (As of December 1, 2016) and Notes

Numbers

Delivered

Maker

Model

Engine

Trans.

Sign

Seating

8000-8011

Dec 2007-2008

Alexander Dennis Limited

Environ500

Cummins ISM

Allison B500R

Luminator Horizon

  • 32 Lazzerini Pratico 2845 seats (lower level)
  • 46 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600 seats (upper level)

8012-8021

March 2009

Alexander Dennis Limited

Enviro500

Cummins ISM

Allison B500R6

Axion Balios

  • 34 Lazzerini Pratico 2845
  • 46 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600

8101-8125

2012

Alexander Dennis Limited

Enviro500

Cummins ISL9

Allison B500R6

Axion Balios

  • 26 Lazzerini Pratico 2845
  • 46 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600

8126-8195

2013-2014

Alexander Dennis Limited

Enviro500

Cummins ISL9

Allison B500R6

Axion Balios

  • 26 Lazzerini Pratico 2845
  • 46 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600

8196-8205

2015

ADL

Enviro500

Cummins ISL9

Allison B500R6

26 Lazzerini Pratico 2845, 46 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600

8300-8337

2016

ADL

Enviro500 “SuperLo”

Cummins ISL9

Allison B500R6

5 tip-up, 76 Lazzerini Grand Tourismo 3600

As of December 2016, GO Transit operates or has purchased 165 double decker buses, or around a quarter of the agency’s fleet. The 8300 series of “SuperLo” buses will allow GO Transit to operate them over more of its network without worry of low clearances. Their importance cannot be overstated as the system’s ridership increases. GO’s double decker buses ably meet the needs of its patrons, and will continue to do so for years to come.

Double Decker Trivia

  • In March 2008, four Algerian men snuck aboard a container ship and, after the ship stopped in Liverpool, England, climbed aboard some of the Alexander Dennis Limited double decker buses being shipped to Canada. The four Algerians were not riding together. The managed to get off the container ship in Halifax and travelled by taxi to Truro, Nova Scotia where they were arrested, attempting to board a train to Montreal. All told, the Algerians were on board these buses for more than a week, and quite possibly hold the record for the longest ride on board these vehicles.

GO's Double Decker Buses Image Archive