A double-decker bus like the ones commonly seen in London will be rolling from the southwest suburbs into downtown Minneapolis this week in a test by SouthWest Transit.

To keep up with growing ridership, SouthWest is considering buying double-decker buses over the next few years. It is trying out the bus to gauge the reaction of drivers and riders, said Len Simich, chief executive officer for SouthWest.

Riders who want to take the bus downtown can catch it at 6:40 a.m. today at the Market Park and Ride in Chanhassen, and at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday at the SouthWest Station in Eden Prairie.

Serving Eden Prairie, Chaska and Chanhassen, SouthWest has seen ridership jump 15 percent this year, spurred in part by high gas prices.

As a result, SouthWest buses have been crowded, and a recent ridership survey found that riders dislike having to stand during commuting trips.

A double-deck bus would seat about 80 people compared with 55 on the coach buses that SouthWest uses for its commuter runs. With aisle space for about 20 standing passengers, the double-deckers could carry up to 100 passengers.

Double-deckers are expected to match or beat fuel use in regular buses and are easier to maneuver than extra-long articulated buses. But they cost about $750,000 -- $200,000 more than a regular coach bus, Simich said.

Double-decker buses are used for transit in England and China, but they have not been widely used for transit in the United States until recently because they did not meet the federal funding requirement that they be made in America.

Now, British manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited has buses made in Riverside, Calif., making the double-deckers eligible for federal funding.

Alexander Dennis went into partnership this year with ElDorado National, a U.S. bus manufacturer that assembles the double-decker buses. Forty-eight percent of the bus is made of U.S. parts and the assembly here meets the requirements for made-in-America status, said Alexander Dennis Vice President Steve Walsh.

Walsh said the buses also are engineered to perform well on ice and snow. The company just delivered 12 of the double-deckers to Toronto.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711