March 2012

U. of Alabama grows fleet to keep pace with student population

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Continuing its successful partnership, University of Alabama Transportation Department ordered clean-diesel, 40-foot LFS smart buses, featuring a new interior design, for its Crimson Ride transit service from Nova Bus.

"Looking at our growth and projecting the need to add vehicles as well as increase our spare ratio, we contracted with Nova to buy two buses a year for the next five years," explained Ralph Clayton, assistant director, transportation services.

The Crimson Ride service launched in August 2007 with 17 full-size Nova buses as part of the university's vision to grow the campus and make it more pedestrian friendly.

"At the time, the student population was a little under 20,000 students, and since that time, the population is now more than 31,000, so you can see the dramatic increase in population," explained Clayton. "To grow the campus like that, we had to get the infrastructure in place, and part of that was adding the transit system to bring the students to campus."

In preperation, the university held more than 80 town hall meetings to inform the campus community about the coming parking changes and to get feedback for the transit system.

"We got the faculty, staff and students involved on the bus selection; the type of bus they wanted; the routes and what they expected out of a transit system," said Ronnie Robertson, director of transportation services. "It really was a learning curve for everybody, because we had never had a workable transit system before."

Today, the service boasts 23 vehicles and an annual ridership of just over two million riders a year.

The service has not only helped transport the campus community to parking lots and residence areas around campus, but has also reduced traffic on campus, added Robertson. Some of the first Nova buses purchased in 2007 have even logged more than 400,000 miles, to date.

The new Nova vehicles are expected to help Crimson Ride succeed in its goal to continue the momentum it has and keep pace as the University of Alabama's population continues to grow.

"We have new buildings and residence halls set to open that will impact our existing infrastructure, and we really have to be nimble, agile and plan to maintain the level of service that is needed to grow along with the university," said Clayton.

Added Robertson: "At peak times, we serve 12,000 riders a day. When the students come to expect the buses to be at particular stops at particular times, it's difficult with the growth we've seen to meet those expectations. So far, because of the administrative support we've received, we've been able to keep up with the growth."

The centerpiece of the new LFS Smart Bus is Nova eCooling - a proprietary electric engine cooling system engineered to minimize lifecycle costs. The system improves fuel economy up to 18% and reduces maintenance costs and greenhouse gas emissions, according to Nova.

Meanwhile, the new Nova Bus interior design is the result of in-depth research and offers passengers a better environment while making vehicle maintenance easier. The optimized design integrates innovative solutions that enhance functionality in transit operations. The University of Alabama's new bus interiors feature its distinct script A on the seating, said Clayton, who added that it has been beneficial for the university's transit system to grow along with Nova.

"We truly have a partnership with Nova," he explained. "But, it's been more than just a business partnership; they feel invested in our community, and the buses have really become part of the fabric of our campus."
The university expects delivery of its first two new Nova LFS buses with re-vamped interiors this July.


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