Bus

BusCon 2015: New Vehicles, New Exhibitors, New Ways to Do Business

Posted on December 1, 2015 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor; Janna Starcic

The dynamic city of Indianapolis was the backdrop for the 20th installment of BusCon in September, which provided attendees the opportunity to see state-of-the-art buses and technology for the public and private passenger transportation market. Informative educational sessions taught attendees about hot topics such as driver safety, marketing to Millennials and electric bus fleets. The event also marked the inaugural “Innovative Solutions” awards, which honored fleets for improving their operations.

Show Floor (For more products, click here)
This year’s BusCon featured more than 70 vehicles, which ranged from chassis, cutaways and vans to full-size transit buses and motorcoaches, as well as the chance to test drive some during the “Ride & Drive” portion. All told, the show floor featured more than 145 exhibitors, with 50-plus of those exhibitors new for 2015.

Several bus builders were showcasing new vehicles this year, including ABC Companies, which unveiled the new Van Hool CX-35 vehicle for the first time.

ABC Companies

One of the standout vehicles on the BusCon show floor was ABC Companies’ new Van Hool CX-35 vehicle, which the company officially introduced during the show. The user-friendly 35-foot coach, based on the proven C-coach, incorporates an extensive array of common parts and components, which can lead to a dramatic reduction in the investment of spare parts inventory for operators running the Van Hool CX-45 model, according to the company.

“Because it is designed and built for smaller groups, the CX35 enables greater fleet flexibility and allows operators to cater to the a more diverse traveling segment, while still providing the high-end amenities and standard features found on-board the full-sized CX45,” explains Roman Cornell, executive VP of ABC Companies.

“Maneuverability is going to be a big selling point,” says Louis Hotard, ABC Companies’ director technical services. “It’s getting into places the 45-foot [vehicle] cannot.”

Design-wise, the CX35 features the same driver’s area layout and control panel as the CX45 — allowing drivers to easily adapt to operating the smaller vehicle with minimal training. Additionally, the similar engine compartment design enables ease-of-service for technicians.   

Featuring front-to-rear flat passenger floor design, the coach’s 102-inch exterior width and full-size coach height offers a roomy and spacious cabin interior, with no step-up throughout. The integrated A/C system translates to more luggage space below, plus a curved passenger entry is both aesthetically pleasing and offers the same uniform step height as the CX45 for passenger boarding. The CX35 also features a mid-ship wheelchair lift for ADA passengers.

Demand for the CX35 has been high with orders pending for delivery by the end of 2015 and into early 2016, according to the company.

Also during BusCon, ABC Companies announced the launch of its new refurbishment program featuring traditional Charter Fleet and Sky Deck refurbishment options of the Van Hool TD925 double-deck bus. A third conversion option will be built featuring a second “open deck” and a third deck “Race Deck” design to appeal to corporate, sports teams and high-end tailgaters. For more info, visit www.abc-companies.com.

MicroBird Commercial debuted its new CT-Series vehicle for up to 17 passengers, as well as its new D-Series vehicle, featuring a 25-passenger capacity plus luggage space.

The CT-Series, offered in gas or diesel engines, provides up to 38% improved fuel economy (Independent test vs. GM gas and current diesel models).

MicroBird Commercial  debuted their new
CT-Series vehicle.
Visit www.mbcbus.com
MicroBird Commercial  debuted their newCT-Series vehicle.Visit www.mbcbus.com

The CT chassis offers a new ergonomic design with more visibility and a more comfortable driver’s area, with easy-to-access controls. The new “more-view” window and entrance door feature offers improved sightlines for drivers and passengers entering and exiting the vehicle. Additionally, the new design offers improved driver storage space and a quieter ride, explains Micro Bird Commercial’s National Sales Manager James Mansell.

“It’s essentially our MB2 body that we’ve been using for many years,” says Mansell. “We updated it and integrated it with a transit chassis. So, it’s proven quality that we’ve had a lot of success with.”

The company’s new D-Series vehicle with room for up to 25 passengers and luggage was also on display. A 28-passenger capacity version is also newly available.

The diesel-powered unit is a dual rear-wheel bus made of six longitudinal structural beams combined with one-piece galvanized steel roof bows that enhance safety and rollover protection.

Both the CT and D Series buses are purpose-built for tours, assisted living, public transit, shuttle markets and many additional applications.

Macedonia-based Indbus NA had two vehicles new to the market, including its Inovo FS2 Tour Coach XL Model, which features seating for up to 45 passengers plus the driver and 233 cubic feet of luggage space. Built on the Freightliner S2 chassis, the coach is wheelchair accessible and features a Cummins ISB 6.7L, 300 horsepower engine coupled to a 320 AMP alternator.

Karsan USA showcased the new CS City Service Bus — an approximately 20-foot, low-floor minibus with seating for up to 15 passengers. Designed for ease-of-entry-and-exit, the CS provides wheelchair access and is ideal for feeding into the main lines of a transit system by providing transportation from smaller residential areas and during hours of low passenger demand. By optimizing fuel consumption with the smaller design, transit systems can efficiently offer public transportation to riders who come from neighborhoods that are far from the urban center, according to the company.

Also on the smaller side was BYD’s new 23-foot battery-electric coach, which utilizes the company’s proprietary Iron-Phosphate Battery and meets over-the-road and shuttle applications with a range of 124.3 miles on a single charge. The new coach, which was outfitted with a mobile office interior, is also compliant with FMVSS, CMVSS and ADA regulations.

Other vehicles on the show floor included offerings from Ford Commercial Vehicles, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., MV-1, Turtle Top and Arboc Specialty Vehicles.

Awards Honor 'Innovative' Fleets

This year’s 2015 PERC (left) and Innovative Solutions (right) winners with METRO Magazine GM James Blue (center).
This year’s 2015 PERC (left) and Innovative Solutions (right) winners with METRO Magazine GM James Blue (center).

New to BusCon’s award lineup this year, was the inaugural Innovative Solutions Awards given by METRO Magazine.

In all, four transit agencies were honored for implementing a new initiative that helped them save money, run more efficiently, streamline operations, improve customer satisfaction and safety, or increase ridership.

In Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) teamed with Lytx to implement the Lytx DriveCam system and designed a plan to effectively utilize event data from the solution by identifying risky behaviors that have the highest impact on the authority and focusing coaching efforts on those behaviors. Since implementation, all four of GCRTA’s riskiest behaviors have seen an improvement. The authority has also seen a decrease in events captured by the video event recorders for those risky behaviors. GCRTA has also seen a 20% decrease in near collisions.

Minnesota’s St. Cloud Metro Bus was honored for its Mobility Training Center — a unique facility that combines the elements of paratransit eligibility screening/ability assessments, travel training and community outreach into a single customer-friendly location. Since launching in July 2014, Metro Bus has developed mutually beneficial relationships within the network of care providers, senior living sites, social service agencies and organizations that support people with disabilities and seniors. The agency has also experienced financial savings, since the cost to provide service through fixed-route services is significantly cheaper than the cost to provide service through Dial-A-Ride.  

The Jacksonville (Fla.) Transportation Authority were honored for its Route Optimization Initiative, which enabled the agency to add extended weekend service, improve frequencies on busy corridors and increase service hours without increasing annual operating costs, while Austin Texas’ Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority were honored for making available its vehicle location data to its customer applications, the open data community and via mobile app-to-app collaboration to help customers better plan their bus and rail trips based on real-time information rather than relying on static schedules.

In addition, the Propane Education & Research Council honored the five top fleets for their use of clean, domestic propane autogas, while the Mid-Size Bus Manufacturers honored transit systems for their continued support of the medium-sized bus industry.

Meanwhile, this year’s BusCon Booth Award winners included Telma Retarder Inc. (Best Booth Display 300 sq. ft. or smaller); Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (Best Booth Display 400 sq. ft. or larger); Indbus NA (Best Vehicle); XL Hybrids (Best Green Initiative); Rosco Vision Systems (Best New Product or Service); and ABC Companies (Best On-Site Marketing).


Session Highlights
BusCon’s educational sessions included “Turn Millennials into Customers” with Porschia Parker, founder of Fly High Coaching and the Millennial Performance Institute, who discussed the growing number of millennials and the spending power they bring as well as how it will impact the entire bus industry in both the long-term and short-term future.

During her session, Parker compared each generation and discussed what has been shown to and not to work when trying to attract millennials. Key takeaways, included their heavy usage of personal devices, such as smartphones, tablets and personal computers; their openness to use coupons or other electronic discounts; and their trust of friends and bloggers when making purchasing decisions.

Piggybacking on many of Parker’s important points, Eric Elliott, GM BusRates.Com, discussed how motorcoach operators could best use social media to attract millennials, as well as other generations as part of the United Motorcoach Association’s educational track.

Elliott encouraged attendees to commit to whatever type of social media they choose, and once they make that choice, to post consistently. He also encouraged engagement versus outright marketing, with the main goal to give potential customers enough information that they will be encouraged to visit the company’s website to not only find out more information but to also possibly book their trips.

What type of technology/equipment are you exploring to improve your operation?
"IT upgrades, specifically focusing on a full enterprise financial system incorporating budgeting, accounting, grants management, procurement, asset management, human resource records, and enhanced reporting capabilities to better manage our operations and plan."
Michael Terry
President/CEO
IndyGo
Indianapolis

Along with Parker’s point of millennials using many different types of technology, Elliott also encouraged the crowd to invest in a responsive website that will work on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Other informative sessions a practical look at electric vehicle usage, featuring two transit agencies with the largest electric bus fleets — Indianapolis’ own IndyGo and Kentucky-based Transit Authority of River City (TARC) — as well as Calif.’s Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), which has plans to add more than 80 new electric vehicles to replace its entire fleet over the next five-plus years.

The session, moderated by IndyGo’s Michael Terry, included a question-and-answer session where operators asked about various topics, including warranties, battery lifecycles and maintenance issues. David Klinikowski and other representatives from Penn State’s Bus Research and Testing Center were also in attendance and discussed information regarding the Altoona Testing of the BYD, Proterra and Complete Coach Works buses being discussed as well as the testing of electric vehicles in general.

From a practical usage standpoint, each agency reported that they are getting more range from their vehicles then were promised by the bus manufacturers. IndyGo is also adding a one megawatt solar panel system on its garage roof, which once installed, will help offset the cost to charge electric buses and further reduce the agency’s operating costs.

Meanwhile, TARC’s Geoffrey Hobin discussed how his agency’s Proterras are not only well-accepted in the community but also fit in well with Louisville’s goal of lessening its carbon footprint. The 10 vehicles replaced the agency’s most well-loved but highest-polluting trolleys and run on the agency’s fare-free routes along three key corridors.

The AVTA — perhaps taking on electric buses the most aggressively — discussed their work with their Lancaster, Calif. neighbor BYD, as well as their plan to add WAVE charging systems, which wirelessly charge vehicles from a charging pad embedded in the roadbed and another identical pad mounted underneath the bus, and convert to a completely electric fleet in the next five years.

Safety was also top of mind, with driver simulator company, L-3’s Louie Maiello and Steve Mentzer discussing the preventability of bus collisions during an interactive and eye-opening session, and TAPTCO’s Jeff Cassell talking about how to train and keep drivers by eliminating risks and more.

During his “Driving Excellence” Keynote Address on Tuesday, TransPro CEO and former head of N.Y.’s Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) Mark Aesch discussed how President Ronald Reagan’s call for the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and President John Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon were great of examples of finding success through stating a clear goal as well as setting a template to not only attain that goal but also get all involved to take ownership of the task at hand.

How are you looking to evolve your service?
"Being new to the industry, I quickly realized there is a great deal of competition in the car service market, so I decided to shift my business model to group business. Developing a market for larger, 30-plus passenger vehicles is my goal.
I currently farm out buses to music festivals and live events. I will specialize in those markets and eventually purchase my own equipment to accommodate the demand.
My passengers are primarily millennials looking for ways to match their experience to a vehicle."
Julie Hatter
Owner
LA Bella Chauffeurs
Los Angeles

Aesch spoke about how his seven steps to success can help develop a new culture at your business, which begins with defining success and includes building a plan to achieve that success, creating a scorecard to measure if the plan is working and creating a culture of ownership among employees.

To deliver his address, Aesch used his experience at RGRTA, where he went from one of the youngest CEOs to run an agency in the U.S., which was experiencing terrible budgeting woes, to building a template for agencies around the industry to follow that not only reversed those budget concerns but also did the unheard of — lowering fares for customers.

Closing the educational session portion of the show, Rally Bus’ Numaan Akram and Bridj’s Matthew George talked about how although operating in different sectors, both are helping to fill buses through the use of technology. In Rally Bus’ case, the company allows people to book a trip on a charter bus directly through their website or smartphone app. Once a trip has 25 confirmed participants, Rally Bus hires a pre-screened motorcoach company to perform the work.

Meanwhile, Bridj contracts with operators in the areas they serve to provide their commuter bus trips for them with their specially branded vehicles, alleviating the strain on transit agencies in cities including Boston and Washington, D.C.

The session resulted in a lively discussion with attendees, who were interested to find out more, including how they can perform some of the trips generated by Rally Bus and what the benefits were for the operators performing Bridj’s work.
BusCon returns to Indianapolis in 2016, from Sept. 19 to 21.   

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