SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin wants everyone to calm down. Contrary to a report last week in the Examiner, Reiskin says the new $1.1 million-a-pop 60-foot electric trolley buses purchased by Muni work just fine on hills — and everywhere else they're intended to run for that matter. Reiskin was speaking at a March 1 SFMTA meeting, and took pains to clarify that the agency knew exactly what it was getting when it ordered the buses.
“You may have read a story in the newspaper about some of our new buses, electric trolley buses in particular, and their performance,” the paper, in a follow-up to its original story, reports Reiskin as telling the SFMTA Board of Directors. “I want to clarify, the trolley vehicles can climb San Francisco’s hills without difficulty. They perform exactly how they should.”
The alleged issue, as you likely remember, was that the New Flyer buses apparently suffer damage when tackling hills of over a 10 percent grade. To that, Reiskin responded, no big deal: The agency reportedly never intended to use the buses on hills with a grade higher than 10 percent. The Examiner, for its part, appears skeptical of Reiskin's claims, noting that photos the paper obtained showed the agency testing its buses on routes with steep hills.
So what's really going on here? Can they, or can't they? When reached for comment, SFMTA Chief Spokesperson Paul Rose insisted that, yes, the buses work just fine on hills.
"[Some] of the 60-footers have been in service for nine months and there have been no incidents related to hill grades," writes Rose. "Since the new 60 foot trolleys have rolled into service," he furthered, "mechanical reliability for this fleet has increased by 61 percent, and these new, state-of-the-art vehicles are easier to maintain, more energy efficient, and have much better off-wire range."
As to the Examiner's photos showing the buses on routes with hills? Well, about that.
"The buses that were in the photos weren't being tested on steeper slopes," explains Rose. "The 5 Fulton is one of our heaviest and flattest routes and we have always planned to run the 60 footers on that line as well. The bus in the 6 Parnassus photo was a bus that was being tested on flat market street."
This post has been updated to include comments from SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.