County officials got a look at the future, and it's red, white and blue.
Elected leaders gathered at the Huntington Metrorail Station March 4 for a ride on what might become the transport of the future for residents of the Mount Vernon and Lee districts. Known as CIVIS, it is a tram-like rapid-transit vehicle that can carry up to 150 passengers.
Manufactured by Irisbus of France, the 60-foot CIVIS has four wide doors and a low floor, allowing for fast and easy boarding and greater accessibility for people with disabilities. It looks more like a tram than a bus with its flexible midsection, but it operates on rubber tires.
"This is one of the things we are pushing for safety along Route 1," said Lee District supervisor Dana Kauffman (D). "All the things under consideration are for a better transit corridor."
Joining Kauffman for the ride were Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Katherine K. Hanley, and Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald Hyland (D).
"We run 10,000 bus routes a day now. This would be a real plus for us. Particularly in the Route 1 area," Hanley said.
Connex/Yellow Transportation, the French firm that provides transportation under contract to the county, noted that the demonstration was only to provide decision-makers with other alternatives. "It is designed for people making short trips like light rail, not for someone traveling 20 miles," said Andy Szakos, chief, Transit Services Division, Fairfax County Transportation Department.
KAUFFMAN ACKNOWLEDGED, "The recently approved FY 2003 federal budget includes $2 million for transit improvements in the Richmond Highway corridor." He thanked U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8th) for this funding from the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program.
"The county is aggressively pursuing public transportation improvements in the Richmond Highway corridor. County staff has recently approved a three-year program to increase transit ridership, improve pedestrian safety, and improve the effectiveness of bus operations in the corridor," said Kauffman.
"This bus is a viable alternative to light rail. For the same area of service, light rail costs $4 million. This bus costs $1 million," said Ronald Hartman, executive vice president, Yellow Transportation.
"We're trying to get our customers interested. It is diesel\electric and very environmental-friendly," Hartman explained. "It's an alternative to light rail at a whole lot less cost."
THE BUS SEATS 30 to 40, although it capacity is 150. Most of those on board will be standing because they are traveling only a very short distance, according to Szakos. The vehicle being demonstrated bore Nevada license plates. It was on its way for use in Las Vegas.
With the ability to operate on special transit-only lanes, the optically-guided vehicle is ideal for a bus rapid transit system, according to its promoters. It can also operate smoothly in everyday traffic, as was demonstrated on its trip to the government center.
As it was explained, as the bus approaches a stop platform, the guidance system takes over from the operator and brings the vehicle in. With its streamlined wheels and level boarding, no ramps or lifts are required for passengers. It can also operate using existing infrastructure, such as garages, operation systems, maintenance and storage facilities.
Connex is Europe's largest passenger transportation company. Since starting operations in the United States in 2001, it has doubled its presence. Yellow Transportation, part of Connex, currently operates in Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia and Connecticut. Yellow/Connex carries approximately 11 million passengers a year in this region.