Management & Operations

Bus raises the roof on great outdoors

Posted on June 1, 2003 by Kristen Force, editorial assistant

Acelebration of old and new will take place in Yellowstone National Park on Aug. 25 as the 100th anniversary of the Roosevelt Arch is commemorated and a “new” yellow bus is unveiled. A coalition of industry and government partners will showcase this new design, a modernized concept of the traditional yellow bus that retains its conventional feel. The Jubilee BarrierFree – Everybody Bus will feature a low floor, rear driver, optional tracks for winter weather and a retractable roof for increased visibility. Dick Rief, sales and marketing director for Heart International, creator of the low-floor, barrier-free chassis, says the new bus design was originally created for Yellowstone, but the company’s goal is to make it appealing for many parks and other transit customers. “We were looking for a bus that would give [people] a positive experience,” Rief says. “We wanted to have cues in the visual appearance that would make people say, ‘I want to get on that bus. I want to try it.’” First stop: Yellowstone This first bus will be a model for Yellowstone and parks around the country, says Jim Bartel, president of Heart International. After the Yellowstone exhibition, the bus will travel across the U.S. to assess how it can best be tailored to each user’s requirements. Changes will be incorporated into production buses, the first of which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2003. Wheelchair lifts will be standard, eliminating the need for cumbersome stairs. Each Jubilee Barrier-Free bus will have full air suspension that automatically kneels when the doors open or the wheelchair ramp is extended. The most obvious deviation from the traditional yellow bus is the retractable roof. This feature provides riders with greater visibility to the wilderness and a less-confining environment to view the great outdoors. The electrically operated roof is a marked improvement on park buses of the 1930s that had canvas roofs tied down with ropes. Rief emphasizes that this retractable roof is an option in the design, rather than a requirement. “We are looking to have a specific design that would be a park-style bus,” Rief says. “The base vehicle will be available as standard transit, shuttle, school and fire and rescue units.” Regardless of the extra options available, each bus will come with standard features found on all models. Each vehicle is built on a base General Motors medium-duty chassis with modifications for a low floor by Heart International/Android Automotive Mfg. and a body and interior manufactured by Champion Bus Group, a division of Thor Industries. The bus can carry 17 to 30 people. New technology was applied to the fuel capabilities of the vehicle, allowing for the use of CNG, propane and “green diesel.” Forty gallons of natural gas is expected to provide a 250-mile range and will burn cleanly. Enhancing your visit Park buses are intended to be a desirable alternative to private vehicles because they reduce traffic and pollution in the park. The parks plan to staff the buses with drivers who can educate guests about the local wildlife and the area’s history, Rief says. Further use of the buses can be achieved by expanding into gateway communities around state and national parks where one bus could have multiple functions. These developing “transit districts” use one vehicle to shuttle guests between hotels, take visitors and residents around the city and give guided tours through the wilderness reserves. Funding for the project comes from a number of government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Parks Service/Yellowstone and the FTA. The Jubilee Barrier-Free bus will cost slightly more than a similar size conventional high-floor cutaway bus. The operational features and benefits are projected to more than offset this premium over the lifecycle of the bus, Bartel says.

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