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Editorial: Smart addition to PVTA fleet

A new supersize PVTA bus travels on University Drive in Amherst.

A new supersize PVTA bus travels on University Drive in Amherst. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

One big selling point hammered home by tour guides at local colleges is the opportunity to take classes at any of the campuses, no matter where a student enrolls. That’s a big benefit. But it wouldn’t do much good without the ability to easily get around.

So guides also tout the free, Five College bus system that allows Smith College students, for example, to hop aboard a bus and ride for free over the bridge to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It also allows Mount Holyoke College students to get to Hampshire College or Amherst College or UMass.

These connections are crucial to the richness offered by the Five College community, both for the social lives of students and enriching their academic opportunities. Bus service helps keep traffic moving on local roads. This month, that service improved with the introduction of large-capacity “articulated” buses to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority fleet.

Also known as “bendy buses,” these vehicles are 60-feet long and look like two buses attached by an accordion-like midsection that pivots.

Four new buses started up their routes in Northampton and Amherst Sept. 3, just in time for the first day of classes. PVTA officials say the buses — with double the capacity of regular PVTA buses — will be used on the heaviest routes during the busiest parts of the day.

Some high-volume bus routes that pick up at apartment complexes such as Puffton Village and Colonial Village are so jam-packed in the mornings, for example, that PVTA sends along what is termed a “tripper” bus to pick up passengers who couldn’t fit aboard the earlier bus.

The new buses will help avoid that, and get the PVTA closer to its stated goal of limiting how often a vehicle in its fleet must pass a customer by because it is at capacity.

In addition to adding capacity to the PVTA fleet, the new four vehicles are hybrid-electric. With a vehicle this size, that translates to 6½ to 7 miles per gallon — still better than the 5½ mpg regular buses get.

Two of the PVTA buses will operate out of the UMass Transit office, driven by students who have to undergo 15 three-hour training sessions to obtain their commercial licenses. Officials say the new buses are not much harder to operate than regular buses. Though double the size, they turn just as easily as regular buses. The back tires follow where the lead tires go.

Initial reports are that the buses are a big hit — with one driver going so far as to call them “show-stoppers.”

The most important thing is that when they stop, they have enough room to let everyone who needs a ride to climb aboard.

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