May 2011

Streamlining the Bus Spec'ing Process

by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor

Photo Courtesy: SEPTA

Photo Courtesy: SEPTA
With all the steps involved in creating specs for new bus procurements, transit and motorcoach operators can become overwhelmed. The process requires extensive organizing and analysis of information and staff coordination, even before the purchasing stage.

The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) thoroughly researched and revised Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines offer a clearer, simpler format to make the process easier for OEMs and agencies, and will hopefully be a useful tool, instrumental in streamlining the process. Additionally, one OEM provides recommendations for ensuring operators use specs to get exactly what they need the first time around.

Standards overhaul

APTA's Guidelines were revamped last year and offer uniformity across the board in bid documents and other standard forms, clauses and terms, so agencies, OEMs and suppliers know what to expect and where to find what they need.

The new guidelines are organized in a more straightforward format, with the best practices that operators are using in their RFPs in one document that the entire industry can use. The guidelines are available at www.apta.com and can be downloaded by anyone for free.

 "The OEMs [are now able to] have a better understanding of agencies' expectations, saving time and money on both sides," Jeff Hiott, senior program manager-Standard Program & Bus Technical, APTA, says.

On the technical side, the guidelines include information for multiple bus lengths and propulsion types in one document. Agencies can now be confident that the technology they are specifying is up to date and vetted by the industry, Hiott adds.

The guidelines, as Hiott describes them, are terms and conditions updated from the former "white book," as it is known in the industry, which was published in 1997. It was a shorter version, and lacked the depth that the new guidelines provide, particularly on regulations, including Buy America.

"It is a living document. It will be updated annually, to reflect any changes in the industry, especially on the technical side," Hiott explains.

APTA also plans to accommodate regulations changes more frequently, if necessary, with online updates.

The new standards were initially presented at the 2010 Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland as a draft for industry input. For the first two and a half years before it actually hit the street, parts of the guidelines were already being used by agencies.

"We reached out to agencies that were putting together an RFP and could use the document to give us some feedback and final comments," Hiott says.

Throughout the summer, after APTA addressed the feedback and retooled, it officially released the published document at its annual meeting in October.

The new guidelines incorporate bus sizes ranging from 30 feet to articulated, as well as all propulsion types, including diesel, hybrid, electric and CNG. Previously, technical specs were limited to a single propulsion or bus type.

The biggest impact is probably on small- to medium-sized agencies, with smaller procurement staff, Hiott says. The guidelines still allow for agency flexibility, with places in the forms for agencies to add, where needed, their own technical information and terms and conditions.

The FTA fully funded the development of the guidelines, which allowed APTA to gather a wide range of industry representatives to provide input. In addition to the association's technical committees and the FTA, transit agencies, including the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, King County Metro Transit; as well as OEMs, including Daimler Buses North America, Nova Bus, New Flyer and Motor Coach Industries (MCI); and sales and technical staff and vendors and suppliers gave input. A total of 200 people were involved in developing the guidelines.


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