With 80-plus vehicles on the show floor BusCon 2016 had something for every type of bus operator who visited the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis Sept. 19 to 21. Nearly 150 exhibitors — 40 new to the event — showcased the latest technological solutions on the market today. Other notable additions to this year’s event were the launches of the Transit Maintenance Forum and BusCon Connect — a hosted-buyer’s program, which brought buyers and sellers together in a one-on-one setting to better facilitate productive communication amongst key contacts.

Highlights from the show floor included Arboc Specialty Vehicles’ new Spirit of EQUESS transit bus — the first-ever purpose-built, medium-duty, rural low-floor transit bus. The Spirit of EQUESS, winner of the BusCon booth award for “Best Vehicle Innovation,” features a flat floor all the way from the entrance door to the rear row of seats.

“It was designed with ‘accessibility for everyone’ in mind, and will have a rear engine set up available in diesel or CNG,” said Arboc President/CEO Don Roberts.

Additionally, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC) showcased Arboc’s Spirit of Liberty low-floor paratransit shuttle built on FCCC’s XBA low-floor, medium-duty chassis. In addition to offering a completely open floor plan with no interior step over the rear axle, the XBA also enables the Spirit of Liberty to feature an extra-wide interior and no open steps throughout the passenger area.
Other Booth Award winners, included ACTIA Corp. (Best Booth: 300 sq. feet or less); REV Group (Best Booth: 400 sq. ft. or larger; and Best On-Site Marketing); and Micro Bird’s D-Series MD vehicle (Best New Product/Service).

REV chief talks new vehicles, tech centers

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

With a booth that included five vehicles as well as Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves’ Indy Car, the REV Group made quite an impact on the BusCon 2016 show floor.

“We wanted to have a big presence at BusCon this year,” explained REV Bus Division President John Walsh. “The product offerings we are featuring are all ideal for BusCon, because they include tour and charter buses, shuttles, paratransit, limousine; really all aspects of transportation, which is what this event is all about.”

Walsh added that over the last year or so, REV has “organized” each of its eight bus brands — Champion, Collins, ENC, ElDorado, Federal, Goshen, Krystal, and the newly launched World Trans.

“I keep hearing that we’re making it a lot of changes, but I don’t call it change I call it organization,” he said. “We’re getting organized as a corporation, and now have a management team in place for each brand, which in my opinion are the most iconic brands in the industry.”

REV displayed a Krystal KLX 40-foot model on a Freightliner S2C chassis, featuring a 34-passenger capacity with rear luggage. Redesigned from the inside out, the 2017 Krystal, which is now being built at REV’s Imlay City, Mich., facility, will feature a drop-down TV, as well as upgraded luggage racks. To reduce clutter, a custom audio/visual cabinet hides electronics, as well as a trash receptacle.

Outside, Krystal’s new molded fiberglass exterior features a new front cap with large panoramic forward observation windows, and sticking to Krystal’s luxury standards, the passenger entry door will continue to offer standard electric-slide operation.

“Krystal has a very good name in the industry,” Walsh said. “We want to preserve that and continue to move it forward. We’ll get into full production by the end of the year, and in 2017, we’ll have a dealer network and financing setup and will be ready to take the vehicle out to the market.”

Also introduced on the show floor was a Federal Spirit with an all-new fiberglass top; a Champion LF Transport built on a heavy-duty Ford F-550 cutaway chassis; and two vehicles from it’s all new World Trans brand — the T-Series, built on a Ford Transit cutaway chassis, and the never-before-seen E-Series, built on the Ford E-350/450 chassis.

Walsh explained that REV is also in the process of opening up to 12 Regional Technical Centers, which will be large facilities positioned throughout the U.S. to do service, parts, and technical training for its customers.

“Because there’s a commonality in parts that we use to manufacture all of our products, it’s easy to service them in one location,” said Walsh. “We’re not trying to replace the dealer or anything like that, we just want to complement our support that we already provide.”

Maintenance Forum

The inaugural Transit Maintenance Forum (TMF), offering transit maintenance professionals insight on the latest federal regulations, as well as information on the newest technology set to reach their shops in the very near future, was launched at this year’s BusCon.

Michael Masquelier

Michael Masquelier

The showcase of TMF was a session featuring the FTA’s Marcel Belanger, who discussed the administration’s recently released Final Rule for its revamped Bus Testing Program, which is switching to a Pass/Fail system and will impact the way buses are assessed at the agency’s testing facility in Altoona, Pa.

Also on hand was the American Public Transportation Association’s director, operations and standards, Jeff Hiott, who gave an overview of the FTA’s State of Good Repair (SOGR) Final Rule, which requires transit agencies to implement a Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan within two years and establish preliminary SOGR performance targets by January 2017. The rule also establishes new reporting requirements to the National Transit Database.

Gary Glasscock, TMF steering committee member and VP, fleet and facilities, for San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit, also joined the discussion to give an overview of his agency’s efforts to get ahead of the SOGR Rule, including lessons learned along his agency’s path.

“Fortunately, the TAM requirement is a not big departure, but really a more formalized procedure than what we were doing before,” said Glasscock.

The second day of the forum featured tech talks from EnerDel, Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification (WAVE), I/O Controls Corp. and WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff representatives.

During his presentation, “Predictive Maintenance with Hybrid and All-Electric Fleet Technology,” EnerDel’s CEO Michael Canada discussed the benefits of advanced lithium-ion technologies, including its ability to provide a broad spectrum of technology solutions, facilitate technology/application pairings, and create highly adaptive mechanical packaging.   

Meanwhile, WAVE’s CEO, Michael Masquelier discussed the growing usage of electric vehicles around the world, as well as his company’s rapid-charging solution for electric buses, which is being used at several transit agencies and on a variety of different manufacturer’s buses, including BYD, New Flyer, Gillig, and Proterra. Masquelier also discussed how “opportunity charging” with solutions like WAVE can and have helped extend the range of electric buses currently out on the road.

Ray Melleady

Ray Melleady

Business Strategies
During his keynote address: “Creating Rock Solid Strategies for Transportation, Business and Life,” USSC Group’s Ray Melleady discussed keys to success at any level, including stakeholder engagement, creating an action plan, and performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis not only on your organization but yourself as well.

Lack of buy-in from key stakeholders, unclear goals, improper organizational structure, absence of purpose, lack of accountability, and inadequate communication/feedback loops are some key reasons a strategic plan could fail, according to Melleady. He added that only 15% of employees know their company’s top priorities. Even worse, only 6% know their individual priorities.

Melleady said that it is important to convert your plan to a purpose so employees have meaning to what you are doing as an organization. He also encouraged attendees to not go for the touchdown when making plans, but rather be comfortable taking incremental strides forward toward your ultimate goal.

Blue Bird, Micro Bird Commercial tackle new markets

Showing side-by-side on the show floor, Blue Bird and Micro Bird Commercial debuted several new products on the show floor, including the Micro Bird D-Series MD, which took home BusCon’s Booth Award for Best New Product/Service, and the Blue Bird Vision.

“We’ve always been together, but now it’s been decided as a group that Micro Bird will go after the retail market and Blue Bird will tackle the commercial market,” said James Mansell, Micro Bird’s national sales manager. “Now that Blue Bird is on board in that capacity, we have a complete line of vehicles for dealers and customers, whether it’s for 12 passengers or 52, as well as a variety of amenities and fueling options available.”

Designed for airport, parking, rental car, and hotel markets, Micro Bird’s new D-Series MD featured a 42-inch middle door entrance, a wide body with a wide aisle, and a total of 74 inches of luggage rack space. The company also offers the D-Series MD in an affordable propane solution, in partnership with ROUSH CleanTech, with a Ford 6.8L engine.

Micro Bird also featured a CT-Series DLX built on a Ford Transit chassis, which included an optional luxury package with a grey vinyl interior, and features a variety of passenger comfort and accessibility options. The vehicle also comes standard with a 32-inch electric double-opening door.

“The base of the product — the steel flooring and steel cage aluminum siding — means that our buses are built to last, which can transition easily to the markets that we are going after and at a price point that is affordable for contractors and other people,” said Mansell.

Meanwhile, Blue Bird featured the Vision, which seats up to 48 passengers and is available with a fuel-efficient Ford 6.8L gasoline, propane autogas, or CNG engine, or a Cummins ISB6.7 diesel engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission. The Vision also provides “best-in-class” forward visibility and exceptional mirror systems that improve driver awareness and increase the safety of passengers around the bus, according to the company.

“The feedback we have from customers is that they’re looking for different value propositions,” said Dean Coulson, Blue Bird’s VP, international operations & commercial bus, about the company’s entry into the commercial market. “So, we looked at our portfolio and looked at where our products matched up and saw value opportunities for customers to give them something different in the market that they’re not used to seeing.”

Also on display was Blue Bird’s T3RE, available with a Cummins ISB 6.7 or ISL diesel engine or a Cummins ISL-G CNG engine, with a five-speed automatic transmission, as well as a wide step well for easy boarding and seating for up to 48 passengers. The engine’s rear location means convenient serviceability, extra cooling, higher power ratings, and less noise.

Electric vehicles, succession plans
Meanwhile, this year’s educational sessions focused on everything from succession planning to driver safety, with alternative forms of vehicle propulsion continuing to be a hot topic.

During the electric bus session Calif.-based Antelope Valley Transit Authority’s Len Engel, who also moderated, discussed his agency’s ambitious plan to be “Green by 2018.” The presentation also featured representatives from electric bus suppliers BYD, New Flyer, and Complete Coach Works, who each discussed the evolution of the technology and what they had planned for the future.

IndyGo’s Director, Maintenance, Vicki Learn also spoke about the successes and setbacks her agency have faced since adding 21 electric buses to their fleet. Some key strategies she discussed before adding technology such as electric buses, included creating a standard operating procedure to train on fleet service responsibilities, offering as much driver training as you possibly can, offering maintenance and high voltage training at first bus arrival, and hosting thermo event training with internal employees along with first responders to your region prior to bus launch.

Greater Dayton RTA’s Chief Performance Officer Gene Rhodes discussed the importance of succession planning as well as how has agency has been able to get in front of the issue. Rhodes used RTA’s shifting demographics, which showed a trend of more millennials and generation x-ers and less baby boomers comprising the agency’s workforce over the last two years. To address the issue, Rhodes suggested assessing your leadership team, including their education and skills, as well as interviewing employees to see what their professional goals are to identify high potential/high performance employees. At RTA, the agency then aligned those high potentials with key positions and created a five-year career development plan, which includes tuition and financial assistance for degree completion at both the bachelor and master degree level. Its plan also includes certification and skill development classes.

Since implementing its plan, RTA has increased its high-performance group to 20 partici  pants and already helped them find about five successors for key positions within the agency.

Other sessions held throughout the three days included two sessions hosted by the United Motorcoach Association, a look at how LA Metro is going above and beyond to ADA requirements, tips for transitioning from a limo operator to a full-service ground transportation company, and how to manage and measure customer service.

BusCon will return to Indianapolis for 2017 from Sept. 11 to 13 at the Indiana Convention Center.