FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – It runs on the road, not the tracks.  And it has a driver, not a conductor.  But the Fort Worth Transportation Authority doesn’t want you to think of its new bus, like it’s a bus.

“When you’re waiting for this service, you’re going to feel like you’re waiting at a train station,” said The T planning director Curvie Hawkins.  The T officials started giving residents a sneak peek this week of its new articulated 60-foot buses and a series of planned amenities along a 6-mile stretch of Lancaster Avenue.

The new buses will roll out in the fall once the Texas Department of Transportation gives The T permission to complete new bus stops and sidewalk improvements on the old state highway.

From the front the silver buses, void of advertising, have a train-like appearance with a hinge like an accordion in the middle to accommodate the length.  They are substantially longer than the 30 to 40 foot vehicles The T uses now, on a route that handles 3,600 riders a day.

Buses on Lancaster are now being used at 130 per cent capacity, with riders regularly watching buses pass them by because there’s no room for anyone to get on.  “There would be four or five people that were so angry to be passed up, but there was just no room to put anyone else on,” said Merla Kramer, who is a regular rider on the route.

Rather than pay the potentially exorbitant costs of light rail, The T decided to make the route as rail-like as possible.  The buses are the beginning of a plan that continues with GPS-enabled signs at stops telling riders exactly the number of minutes until a new bus arrives.

Larger stops will be built and sidewalks improved in 15 locations.  And buses will have technology that will changed red lights to green faster, or hold green lights longer at intersections, to reduce stopping.  “Those are some things that make getting on a train very convenient,” Hawkins said. “Safe feel, convenience, timely service, frequent service.”

The buses were paid for out of a $6.4 million federal stimulus grant and additional grants of $1.3 million will cover the costs of improvements on the route.
The idea will act as a proving ground for a concept that could be used across the rest of the city if it’s successful.