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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.