Screwing our retirees is HOW WE ROLL

Screwing our retirees is HOW WE ROLL

Friday, October 5, 2012

Theoretical Musing on the Supersoldier Gillig Phantoms

With the new 3000 buses coming into service gradually, there's already been talk that within a day's worth of service, the new buses are already breaking down or glitching up. It's causing me to think back on the 1400 series and realize that it's a miracle that they're still alive.

I did some guesstimating today to see just how productive they are. These aren't hard truths but they're something to mull over, for sure.

Let's start off with the basics. The 1400 Gillig Phantoms have been active for 22 years, since 1990. They're still pretty commonplace today, primarily on lines 1, 22, 23, 25 and 94 for most blatant example. Their junior forms, the 30-foot 1600 series, are 21 years old, being active since 1991. They're used on several lines that require smaller buses, primarily in the eastside. You can see them on lines 28, 29, 34, 80 and 81, and on the west side, lines 39 and 51. These buses have three or four years on me age-wise, which in and of itself is impressive.

Now add to that the fact that these buses run at least five days out of the week, sometimes seven. They definitely worked seven days a week for most of their 22 years. With a bit of math and give-and-take, these buses have worked approximately 7,500 days of its lifetime, or around 95% of its total days. These buses work just as hard as the average person does, only they don't get days or holidays off, which is pretty crazy.

Crazier than that, these buses have been active throughout the entire day for the most part, albeit less so recently for the 1400s. Still, you'd be hard pressed to miss them. They were definitely running all day, ever day, when they were the newest buses off of the market, and for most of their lifetime it was probably the same case. I'll give it the average of 10 hours a day factoring in give-or-take. With that total in mind, we have 75,000 hours of their life working. Have you ever done 75,000 hours of anything? 75,000 hours, or 27 million seconds, or 4.5 million minutes? That's a staggering amount of time to be doing anything, much less working that entire time. I dunno, maybe I'm just an inexperienced kid who hasn't even been alive 75,000 hours.

And if we're talking lifetime miles, it gets even better. Let's say on an average day, a bus drives around 60 miles. Much more when they originally came out, considerably less nowadays since they're mostly restricted to rush hour lines and local infrequent routes. 60 miles a day is 450,000 lifetime miles for these buses. That, if you ask me, is insane.

I'll definitely leave this disclaimer: THIS IS NOT EXACT MATH. This is primarily guesstimating with some give and take thrown in to give this theoretical example. But this theoretical example is probably very close to the truth. I know nowadays it's not fun to ride a 1400. They have no AC, the benches are like sitting on rocks, they're bumpy, noisy and unstable. The fact that most of these buses have survived all of this work and the hardships of being a bus is just incredible to me, and the fact that they still work baffles me. I think that despite it all, we have to give the 1990/91 Gillig Phantoms some credit and respect for all of their hard work.


Al M said...

The 1400's dont have all that damn computer technology.
It's that computer technology that is the problem

Erik H. said...

Using the same logic Cam is using (which is good logic), TriMet got between 16 and 18 years of service out of the 700 series Crown-Ikarus Articulated buses.

Yes - they had teething issues. Big ones. Yes - the wheelchair lifts had a design flaw and had to be disabled and/or removed altogether. Yes - at first they were wonderfully unreliable. And yes - at the end of their lives they were miserable to ride in - dirty, ratty, usually on the road with multiple problems. My last ride had both of the rear doors out of service, a bad headsign and a broken farebox - but it got me where I needed to go.

Yet - TriMet cites the problems with the 700s as why they won't go back to artics ever again. Never mind that the federal government only wants 12 years of service from a bus, and TriMet got between 16 and 18 years (depending on the specific bus). TriMet squeezed the blood out of the turnip until there was no more. And it's not exactly a secret that there are all sorts of successful artic bus designs out there, including the wildly popular New Flyer D60LF (the articulated variant of TriMet's primary vehicle of choice, the D40LF). That have solved every single problem TriMet had with the 700s - including, specifically, eliminating the lift with a ramp.

The Gillig Phantom is not a bad design - it did its job very well. So have the Flxible Metros - a design that bombed at New York City's MTA, but by the time Portland anted up for the Metro, those design flaws (cracked frames) were resolved. Even the lowly GMC RTS (TriMet's 900 series), purchased at the same time as the 700 series Crown-Ikaruses, served TriMet well even though TriMet didn't fall in love with them like so many other agencies (C-Tran, Cherriots, Community Transit, LACMTA, to name a few.)

But it comes right down to the fact the buses weren't designed for an infinite service life. A transit bus is subjected to a LOT of wear and tear - both internally, and mechanically. More so than most other pieces of heavy machinery are. Sure, you could build a bus with a 30 year lifespan but it'd be three times as heavy, require an engine two or three times more powerful, and cost a lot more. And it would help that TriMet's service delivery partners - the city public works departments and ODOT - would maintain their part of the infrastructure (the streets) a lot better. We've gotten our money's worth out of those old buses, and then some. It's time to replace them - not stick them on life support like Terri Schiavo and keep them alive perpetually when their insides have turned to a liquid mush.