Metro officials hope to improve rider satisfaction this month in part with the oddly appealing scent of glue and fresh plastic - otherwise known as that new-car smell - when they roll out 152 new buses.
Though roughly two feet shorter than existing buses in the transit agency's fleet of 1,492, the new ones by Minnesota-based New Flyer, at a 40-passenger capacity, can seat several more people.
The new buses are hybrid-electric models and about 3,000 pounds lighter, "which can save a lot of money by increasing our mileage," Jack Requa, a Metro assistant general manager, said Tuesday.
Each bus cost $571,737. Metro will pay for them with $879 million budgeted through 2016 in a capital improvement program for bus replacement and rehabilitation. The agency also will use $40.8 million in federal stimulus money.
The buses, known as Xcelsior XDE40s, also have better mirror placement and driver seats designed for comfort and optimal vision.
"It's got better turning, and the seat can go all the way back," said Metrobus driver Robert Miles, who has logged more than 3 million miles behind the wheel. "It's more comfortable because I can adjust it."
Mr. Miles also likes the new buses' windows and mirrors, which are higher in the driver's line of vision.
"I get a better view for my left turn," he said. "And the bigger windows mean there are no blind spots."
The new buses are also among the first to have LED headlights, which will improve driver vision, and five security cameras that record what happens inside the bus.
In addition, the new buses have a four-tier brake system and guards around the back wheels to minimize injuries if a passenger slips or falls getting on or off.
Safety has been an issue in recent years. In 2008, Metrobus driver Ronald Taylor struck and killed Bartlett Tabor of Alamo, Calif., as he rode in a taxi near Foggy Bottom. Mr. Taylor was arrested just last month on charges for negligent homicide. In October 2009, Northeast resident Stephanie Richardson, 61, was killed when she crossed into the path of an oncoming Metrobus after stepping off another bus.
"We're trying to keep these buses as safe as possible," said Robert Golden Jr., an assistant chief engineer of vehicles for Metro.
Inside the buses, polished metal gleams against the blue upholstered chairs and yellow hand loops for standing riders who cannot reach the overhead hand bar.
As the new buses are phased in throughout the year, roughly 200 Metro employees are routinely maintaining and reconditioning ones in the existing fleet.
"When a bus comes out of the overhaul it looks like a new bus," said Metro general manager Richard Sarles during a tour of the agency's Bladensburg and Landover maintenance facilities.
In Landover, buses are given the vehicular equivalent of a physical and a facelift.
Every year, 100 buses are rehabilitated at a cost of $122,000 each during an eight- to 10-week process that involves racking and gutting them to ensure what needs to be replaced is switched out and what needs a touch up is spiffed and shined.
The industry standard for a bus' lifespan is 12 years, but Metro extends it to 15 years through the midlife overhaul.
"We're taking less-reliable buses off the street and providing a much more reliable piece of equipment," Mr. Requa said.
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