Mobility, technology, and new vehicles were just some of the highlights of BusCon 2018, which was held Oct. 1 to 3 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
During her Keynote Address, “In Los Angeles, Bus is the Answer – Now What was the Question?,” L.A. Metro’s Nadine Lee discussed how the agency and its Office of Extraordinary Innovation is tackling the idea of mobility in an area that is well-known for its single-occupant vehicle usage, particularly in advance of the 2028 Olympics, which the city will host.
Lee discussed how her office is looking to partner to provide more efficient services and deliver projects quicker to increase mobility. One of the ways the agency is trying to reach those goals is by inviting the private sector to submit unsolicited proposals, which has included well-publicized pitches like Elon Musk’s underground tunneling and an aerial gondola from downtown Union Station to Dodger’s Stadium.
She also spoke about how the city is using car-share and bike-share services to better tie together bus and rail services, and is currently in the process of implementing microtransit and on-demand transportation services in the near future.
One key takeaway from Lee’s presentation was the need to empower everybody at your operation to share their ideas to improve services or increase the effectiveness of your system, pointing to a couple of internal suggestions submitted to L.A. Metro by its own employees, including the use of drones to inspect the agency’s rail system.
Continuing the focus on mobility, the “Forging Partnerships to Improve Mobility and Boost Ridership” session discussed how operations are finding ways to increase services with little to no cost, which have helped boost ridership and improve flexibility for its customers.
Sacramento Regional Transit’s Alva Carrasco talked about the agency’s successful SmaRT Ride microtransit system, which creates a flexible route for bus operators to follow as they pick up and drop off passengers on smaller, neighborhood-friendly sized buses. In its first year the service has boosted ridership and allowed the agency to increase efficiencies, while also receiving a $12 million state grant to continue expansion of the program. The agency and its partner, TransLoc, was also one of the recipients of METRO’s Innovative Solutions Awards.
Meanwhile, Ed Eucker, director of operations for Senior Transportation Connection, discussed how his operation facilitates better services for its operations partners’ customers on a case-by-case basis through custom contracting.
Addressing one of the transportation industry’s most popular topics today, First Transit’s Scott Conroy discussed “The Role of Autonomous Vehicles in Transportation” opening the session by explaining how the technology works. Conroy also offered an overview of regulatory restrictions by state and provided a forecast for autonomous vehicle adoption. By the year 2050, nearly 300 million personal fully autonomous vehicles will be on U.S. roads, while traditional personal vehicle usage will have dropped to nearly 100 million, according to Conroy.
Congestion mitigation, eliminating the need for parking infrastructure, and the ability to use time versus consuming it are some of the factors driving the shift towards the use of semi-autonomous vehicles, the precursor to fully autonomous, he explained.
Electric buses continued to be a hot topic for attendees, with two separate packed sessions discussing both practical usage and the preparations necessary for implementing charging infrastructure.
Focusing on new applications for electric buses, the “Operator Perspectives” session took a look at how the Indianapolis Airport Authority is using Complete Coach Works remanufactured electric buses to provide shuttle services, while Duluth Transit Authority’s Nancy Brown and the Center for Transportation and Environment’s Erik Bigelow — also Innovative Solutions Winners — discussed their partnership to study the usage of Proterra electric buses in extreme cold.
One big takeaway from the session was that driver behavior has probably the largest impact on the range and performance of battery-electric buses and that when planning infrastructure upgrades, plan at least a year ahead while also making upgrades that can accommodate more buses that the amount of buses you are planning to initially charge. Brown added that when implementing any new technology, including battery-electric buses, bus operations have to be sure that the technology or service benefits the customers because if “nobody is riding the bus, you are just wasting your time.”
The Transit Maintenance Forum took a look at how to create a long-term bus charging plan, with WSP’s Jewels Carter discussing best practices and IndyGo’s Vicki Learn and former Antelope Valley Transit Authority Executive Director Len Engel sharing how they planned upgrades with an eye toward eventually moving to an all-electric fleet.
Additional TMF sessions took a look at how Artificial Intelligence is helping to build a more reliable, efficient bus, new technologies impacting maintenance and operations, apprenticeships, and bus fires.
The show kicked off on Monday night with two informative sessions from the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) and a two-part introductory course on Lithium-Ion battery technology from EnerDel Inc.’s Dr. Mary Patterson.
During the UMA’s session on Expanding Your Business through Diversification, H&L Charter Co. Inc.’s Jodi Merritt discussed adding smaller vehicles to her fleet of motorcoaches, while Sal Milazzo with Signature Transportation Group talked about adding motorcoaches to his fleet of sedans and SUVs.
Despite have some growing pains early on, Milazzo said his experience with adding larger vehicles to diversify his fleet has been “fantastic.”
“I would caution everyone that is a small company looking to get into the motorcoach industry, to do their research,” Milazzo said. “Talk to people who’ve done it, talk to [already established] motorcoach operators, and look at their P&Ls, so you understand what you’re really getting into. See if it’s something you can live with. If not, it could torpedo your other pieces of business.”
“Looking back, I would definitely, be more prepared and would have partnered with people to find out about the market and get vehicle advice,” Merritt said of her diversification experience of adding smaller vehicles to her fleet.
Merritt also touted developing relationships with other motorcoach operators and joining the Spader Groups, which “teaches you how to run your business better.”
“If you’re looking to buy other vehicles than you have, talk to the distributors. Find out where the service facilities are, specifically, on the motorcoach side. Find out how long it takes to get there and find out the costs to maintain the vehicles,” said session moderator Michelle Wiltgen with National Interstate Insurance Co.
There was plenty of technology on the show floor, including the first of 13 60-foot battery-electric BYD artic for IndyGo’s Red Line bus rapid transit system.
The K11 can integrate easily into a transit fleet, offering a clean, zero-emission alternative to diesel-fueled buses. It is powered by revolutionary iron-phosphate batteries that are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. The bus purchases are part of IndyGo’s plans to replace all its diesel buses with electric models by 2032; reducing pollution and operating costs, while improving service for Indianapolis residents and visitors.
BusCon attendees were also among the first to see MCI’s new J3500 motorcoach, which was designed to meet increasing demand for right-sized comfort for smaller groups, niche customers, and new markets.
Featuring all the styling and performance of the 45-foot MCI J4500, the new 2019 MCI J3500 comfortably seats up to 44 passengers with best in class interior, baggage capacity among all 35-foot vehicles and top maneuverability for congested city streets, airport terminals, and other busy transportation settings.
Equipped with or without wheelchair lift and lavatory, the J3500 has a smaller, yet powerful 2017 EPA Cummins L9, 350 hp, 1150 lb-ft torque w/engine brake and Gen V Allison B500, six-speed automatic with prognostics capability.
Meanwhile, Platinum Sponsor Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway Co., showcased offerings from all of its brands in an approximate 7,000 square foot, including the latest from Glaval Bus, Startrans, Starcraft, and Elkhart Coach.
Forest River’s Berkshire Coach unveiled its newest and largest member of its product lineup, the Ultra 42. Built on Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s S2C platform, the Ultra 42 offers a full range of standard features and highlights made possible by the chassis’ industry-leading design, durability, and amenities.
Features of the Ultra 42 and its purpose-built S2C chassis include the best visibility in its class and superior cab ergonomics, safety and visibility; leather seating and steering wheel; premium driver and passenger air-suspension seats; and exclusive front and rear suspension configuration for optimum ride and handling. Additional features include LED headlamps with Daytime Running Lights; an easily accessible slide-out battery tray and battery disconnect switch; and a weather-protected Power Distribution Center.
Also unveiled at BusCon was the D-Series electric bus from Micro Bird Commercial. Built on a Ford E450 chassis, the D-Series has a 14,500 GVWR, a wheelbase of 158 inches, and a range of approximately 100 miles.
The vehicle, which features thermal management for better performance in any weather condition, boasts an electric powertrain that requires significant less maintenance than combustion engines. After making its debut at the show, Micro Bird is currently taking orders for the vehicles with deliveries set for the near future.
Creative Carriage featured the CS-2 dual-ramp Micro Transit Vehicle, which is built on the Ram Promaster 2500 Window Van and features a unique patent-pending dual-manual ramp low-floor design.
Fully FMVSS/CMVSS, ADA, and D409 compliant, the CS-2 is available in a variety of floor plans capable of carrying up to three wheelchairs or up to seven ambulatory passengers.
Karsan and Morgan Olson teamed to introduce the Jest Electric bus. With a total length of approximately 20 feet, the Jest has a maximum range of approximately 102 miles and a maximum passenger capacity of 26.
The low-floor Jest Electric easily charges itself through the charging socket in the front grill. It can be charged with two types of AC/DC, recharges the entire battery for eight hours at night and 1.2 hours with quick charging during the day.
The prototype on the show floor was a proven shuttle bus platform in the European market with over 6,500 diesel units sold since 2013. Another proven advantage is the BMWi EV powertrain. BMW has produced more than 30,000 EV’s with their core BMW “i” technology.
Awards and more
Outside of the classroom and off the show floor, METRO Magazine honored two people who have gone above and beyond to create a well-run maintenance shop.
Winners of the inaugural Maintenance Director of the Year Award were Getty Modica from Santa Monica, Calif.’s Big Blue Bus in the under 500 vehicle category and Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Michael Hubbell in the over 501 vehicle category.
METRO also honored seven bus operations and their supplier partners for implementing a new initiative that helped them improve training, save money, run more efficiently, streamline operations, or improve safety, while the Propane Education & Research Council awarded four fleets for creating healthier environments for riders and communities by using clean, cost-effective, and domestically-produced propane autogas. For more on the award winners, click here and here.
This year’s Booth Awards were Rosco Inc., Best Booth Display (300 square feet or smaller); BYD, Best Booth Display (400 square feet or larger); Micro Bird for Best Vehicle Innovation; Forest River for Best Onsite Marketing; and Vehicle Inspections Systems’ BrakeMate for Best New Product or Service.
BusCon will return to the Indiana Convention Center in 2019 from Sept. 23 to 25.