TransLink has caught local bus riders' eyes with a new model it has been testing in Langley since late July.
The bus is notable for its short length, tiered seating, and large windows, but it is also the first bus designed and built by a Langley firm.
Aldergrove's Grande West has built one of the buses, and a small fleet of 15 has been ordered by B.C. Transit. The first bus has now been tooling around Langley, as TransLink also tests it out as a new community shuttle vehicle.
If it becomes successful enough, a factory to produce the Vicinity, as the vehicle is known, could be built in this province, said Grande West CEO William Trainer.
The vehicle is styled like a full-sized bus, but is much shorter, at just 27.5 feet (8.38 metres) long.
"We took a 40-foot bus and shrunk it down in size," said Trainer.
It's also a little narrower than a conventional bus, and Trainer said it's nimble in traffic - he says it can pull into a suburban driveway to turn around, a difficult trick for a full-sized bus.
The model may have some advantages over the older community shuttles, for passengers.
The current small, truck-based vehicles used as community shuttles are relatively high, with several steps up from the ground to the passenger area.
The Vicinity can do the same trick that most modern full-length buses can do - it can "kneel" and lower its front door to just a few inches off the ground.
For wheelchair, walker, or stroller using passengers, it can also extend a ramp to its main door.
The current shuttles have to extend a lift at the back for wheelchair-using passengers, a more complicated and lengthy process.
"A low floor design is closer to accessibility and what we want for customer service," said Drew Snider, the public information officer for TransLink.
The Vicinity uses a Cummins diesel engine. It's slightly longer than a current community shuttle.
"We tried to use the greenest technology available," Trainer said. The bus isn't electric, but he believes it has lower emissions and operating costs than its competitors.
In the future, the company would like to look into building an electric model, he said.
Snider said there is no plan to immediately purchase any of the new shuttles, but TransLink will be testing out a variety of models of new buses and shuttles as they come on the market.
Trainer said the first 15 buses destined for B.C. Transit service are being manufactured in China.
Over the next year, the Aldergrove company will be marketing the bus across Canada, and after that it hopes to expand into the United States.
Grande West was formed in 2008 after B.C. Transit and TransLink both expressed an interest in a new community shuttle vehicle, said Trainer.
His background is in heavy construction machinery, and he's been based in Aldergrove for years. Along with his partners in the new venture, he's stayed here.
Trainer said the firm plans to remain in B.C., rather than move to the manufacturing hub of Ontario, if it can expand in the future.
"Our intention is to manufacture here in British Columbia," said Trainer.
@ Copyright 2013