226 'accordion' buses pulled from CTA fleet

February 20, 2009 2:57:41 PM PST
CTA riders are being advised to avoid the rush hour crowds. This alert comes after the Chicago Transit Authority announced it will inspect hundreds of the so-called accordion buses for cracks. The CTA pulled 226 buses manufactured by North American Bus Industries off the road. They are accordion-like, large buses that represent roughly 6 percent of the CTA's bus fleet.

"We have to replace them with smaller buses. There is an impact in terms of the amount of people who can ride the buses during this period," said acting CTA president Dorval Carter.

Not all of the articulated buses are out of service, but enough of them are, and any time enough buses are sidelined, that's going to mean longer and more crowded commutes. The CTA has hired an engineer and he is looking at the buses to see if they have defects serious enough to keep them out of service.

Six years ago this month, the CTA proudly displayed the first of its newly purchased fleet of articulated buses. Made by North American Bus Industries, the CTA bought 226 of them at over $400,000 apiece. Air conditioning, more comfortable seating, and lower emissions were their attractions.

Over 200 of those buses, the entire NABI fleet, is now out of service, sitting side by side and nose to nose outside several CTA bus garages. Each and every one must now be inspected because one of the 7500 series accordion buses has a broken joint where the two halves of the accordion bus are joined. Not a good thing, and not the first time the CTA says it has had problems with its NABI articulated buses.

Four years ago, the CTA discovered what it called design defects in the 7500 series, including problems with the mid-section joint. The CTA sued the manufacturer then stopped payment on the buses. NABI countersued in a case that is still ongoing.

The long buses are used largely for Lakefront express runs.

"Obviously with the accordion buses, you get a lot more people, so they'll have to run double the number of them," said Aron Smith, CTA passenger.

Rush hour will now mean more crowded regularly sized buses making the express runs.

"These buses are packed in the morning. It'll take me longer to get to work," said Tiffany Wright, CTA passenger.

There surely were more crowded buses on the Friday morning commute. That will continue for the evening rush and probably sometime into next week.

It is not yet known when the inspections will be completed or if the engineers have found anything of a serious enough nature to keep the articulated buses out of service.