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MTA is buying jumbo buses in bid to cut costs


In an era of government downsizing, the Mass Transit Administration is enlarging -- at least when it comes to the length of its buses.

Across Baltimore, the MTA has begun training its drivers on the intricacies of maneuvering a 60-foot-long articulated bus, a jumbo edition that is 50 percent larger than the normal transit bus.

The buses feature an accordionlike hinge that permits them to turn as if they were 43 feet long -- which permits them to manage most city streets.

The MTA plans to use 10 of the oversized buses on its busiest routes. They are designed to seat 65 passengers and carry 30 others standing, a sizable improvement on the standard bus, which seats 45.

The main reason the MTA decided to buy the buses is to save money. Employing drivers costs more than maintaining buses. A bigger bus permits the MTA to move more people without hiring more drivers.

"If you can carry the same number of people [on fewer buses] or even a greater number of people on a single bus, you have an opportunity to reduce costs," explained John A. Agro Jr., the MTA's administrator.

Washington, Philadelphia and New York have big buses. Despite some initial apprehension, Mr. Agro said, drivers and mechanics have been pleased with the performance of the bus.

Manufactured by American Ikarus Inc. of Anniston, Ala., the buses cost about $330,000 each, compared with $235,000 for a 40-foot model. Officials said they are no more dangerous to operate.

More than half the order has been delivered to the MTA's Northwest Division with the rest arriving by month's end. Drivers are testing them on various routes. They are expected to begin carrying passengers next month.

About a half-dozen routes are in the running to get the big bus, but officials want to make sure the routes don't have obstacles that might prove difficult for a bus the size of a small house.

"It's going to be a good experience for the Baltimore area," Mr. Agro said.

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