How connected and autonomous technology will impact the transportation industry, the usage of alternative fuels and electric vehicles, and transit maintenance training and best practices were just some of the highlights of BusCon 2017, which was held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis Sept. 11 to 13.
As always, the show also offered nearly 135 exhibitors and close to 60 vehicles, ranging from transit buses to motorcoaches and cutaways to vans, as well as some of the latest technologies available to operators on the market today.
Although their group was impacted by Hurricane Irma, REV Group made a giant splash on the show floor with an offering from each of their vehicle brands — Champion, Krystal, Federal, World Tran, ElDorado, Collins, ENC, ElDorado Mobility, and Goshen.
Vehicles of note from REV, included the Krystal Sprinter, which was built on the Mercedes-Benz chassis and features wide passenger windows that provide increased visibility and safety for drivers and passengers. Also on the BusCon show floor was the Collins Low-Floor, built on a fuel-efficient front-wheel drive RAM ProMaster chassis, and the Mobility Amerivan PT Dodge, which has passed all applicable FMVSS/CMVSS crash testing requirements, is Altoona-tested, and is FTA-approved for all Buy America applications.
In addition to its S2C chassis being showcased on a redesigned Krystal luxury coach, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. showcased a pre-series production unit of its XBS straight-rail chassis powered by a Cummins L9 330 horsepower engine. The L9-powered XBS also features an Allison B-400 automatic transmission and FCCC’s X-Ride rear suspension, which provides a higher weight rating and significant weight reduction, allowing for increased passenger capacity without compromising ride quality and durability, according to FCCC representatives.
Elsewhere on the show floor, Blue Bird and Microbird showcased their vehicles under a solidified and rebranded Blue Bird Commercial Group moniker, while MCI and New Flyer showcased their latest motorcoach and transit offerings side-by-side in one booth.
Of the more than 130 exhibitors, more than 20 were new or returning to BusCon, and offered a range of products from telematics solutions to safety cameras and mobile surveillance to passenger entertainment solutions, as well as everything in between. Highlights included several offerings for transit, motorcoach, and shuttle operators from REI, Freedman Seating, and the USSC Group.
Show floor booth award winners included Telma Inc. (Best Booth Display – 300 square feet or smaller); REV Group Inc. (Best Booth Display – 400 square feet or larger); MCI (Best Vehicle Innovation); Stratio Automotive (Best New Product or Service); and Midwest Bus Corp./Byk-Rak (Best On-Site Marketing).
Tech today and tomorrow
This year’s Keynote Address, “How Connected/Autonomous Vehicle Technology will Impact Transportation,” delivered by Scott Shogan, connected/automated vehicle (C/AV) market leader for WSP USA, not only touched on the respective technologies, but also separated facts from the myths appearing in the mainstream media, as well as what bus, motorcoach, and shuttle transportation providers’ place will be if and when the technology takes hold on a mainstream scale.
First, Shogan talked about tech and the automobile industries’ race to pilot autonomous vehicles in condensed city settings, as well as bring them to market on a large scale. He also discussed how the automobile industry could flip its sales models to selling mobility as a service, meaning that its vehicles would be sold to private industry transportation providers. He added while many groups working together have discussed aggressive timelines for rolling out their vehicles, he doesn’t think it is feasible that C/AV technology reaches Level 5, or large-scale mainstream usage, in the timetables that have been discussed.
Shogan also warned the audience not to fall victim to “shiny object syndrome,” adding that while the tech is the newest, latest offering on the market, it is not a silver bullet for everybody’s transportation needs and there are infrastructure concerns that must be addressed before it will ever take hold on a large scale.
Also, while C/AV tech will bring increases in safety and traffic flow on freeways and turnpikes, congestion is still an issue in city environments, with the idea that people will be able to travel to and from work in driverless taxis simply not plausible based on the volumes of people in some large employment centers. Specifically to this point, Shogan discussed how public transportation will have opportunities to be the main form of transportation with autonomous vehicles filling a more first-, last-mile role, or for private operators to run systems that pickup people and shuttle them to autonomous vehicle parking lots, similar to how rental and hotel shuttles function now at airports around the nation.
During the Q&A portion of the Keynote, the audience expressed their concerns with the infrastructure that will be necessary, given the fact that the country is already suffering from infrastructure-related issues, and safety. To these points, Shogan said there are not only concerns about infrastructure but also with the communications, data, and mapping technologies that will have to evolve to accommodate the shift to C/AV. As far as safety, Shogan said it will be interesting to see how the technology will be perceived, especially in regards to the number of fatalities being viewed from a glass half-full or half-empty perspective.
The practical application of the most recent technology to impact the bus transportation industry — electric buses — was discussed during the “What Goes into Electric Bus Implementation?” session, while propane autogas and CNG usage was discussed during the “What Really Goes Into Adding Alternative Fuels to Your Fleet” session.
Key takeaways from both sessions included the need to completely study and identify the positives and negatives of adding the respective propulsion technologies to your fleet, including infrastructure costs, actual fuel savings models, and the amount of training necessary to get not only maintenance and driver staff up to speed but also your customers.
One key warning from both sessions was that finding the right application and route for each of the propulsion technologies is key. At the University of Utah, for example, Alma Allred and Chad Larsen told the crowd that while electric buses worked well on specific routes and that they are expanding their usage of electric buses in the future, other alternative fuels, such as CNG, proved to be more ideal on other routes. Likewise, when discussing the City of La Porte, Ind.’s usage of propane autogas, Tom MacLennan warned the crowd that because of such factors as fleet diversity and application, propane autogas may not be ideal for everybody, though it is working quite well at his and other operations around the nation.
Finally, all participants in the electric bus and alternative fuel sessions, which also included representatives from the South Bend Public Transportation Corp., Everett Transit, and the University of Texas, suggested that interested operators should reach out to other operators to get their feedback before embarking down the path of any of these propulsion systems.
The United Motorcoach Association partnered with BusCon once again to deliver two informative sessions — “The Capital Cost of Contracting” and “How Mastering Data Q’s Can Impact Your Bottom Line.” During the former session, Steve Klika discussed how private operators can forge partnerships with public transportation providers to help fill gaps in their service offerings caused by such factors as a reduction in transit funding and ridership decline, to boost their businesses through the increased utilization rates of their fleets.
In addition to discussing the opportunities available, such as paratransit contracts and commuter routes, Klika also discussed funding and other grant opportunities available for private operators, as well as tips for how to get started, including taking an active role in the communities operators serve.
He talked about the various opportunities for and benefits for motorcoach operators to partner with public transportation entities, including increasing revenue hours for vehicles; stabilizing management of payroll and indirect costs; promoting business diversity and growth; and recognizing the private operator as a solution for public transit.
Klika explained that the way to go about forming these partnerships is to “understand your community and the challenges it faces…stop living in a box.” Some key takeaways included:
- Look at the various challenges in the community (i.e. work access) and strategize how you can be a solution.
- Get involved in your community.
- Talk to your local transit board members, city council people and county commissioners about the problem and the solution you would like to discuss.
- Be up front… you have an agenda… grow your business.
- Meet with local transit agency leadership to discuss your ideas.
Social media was covered by both Aleja Seabron and Limo University and Inbound Marketing Agents’ Bill Faeth during their respective presentations. After giving an overview of the social media platforms available and how to find the best fit for your operation, Seabron’s “Creating Your Social Strategy” session stressed the importance of active engagements with the audience, as well as the need to supplement social media content with blogs, which are key to optimizing keywords and Search Engine Optimization.
Developing a company blog is also a great way to showcase your services and expertise and to connect with your clients in another meaningful and low-cost way, Seabron explained. Tips for blogging include:
- Create a content calendar — assign a writer, editor, and due dates.
- Use images throughout your posts.
- Make sure there are sharing options within your blog pages.
- Keep your user experience in mind.
- Share across your social platforms.
- Offer a newsletter subscription and build your email list.
Aside from being free, social media is a good investment for companies, one of the benefits of using social media is it allows you to build your brand, earn strong links from reputable sources, and most importantly, interact directly with your consumers, Seabron explained. She also stressed the importance of keeping to a rule of only making 20% of your social media marketing promotional.
During one of his sessions, “Leveraging Automation to Sell 24 Hrs. a Day,” Faeth told the audience that social media doesn’t work if you are trying to use it to broadcast or sell, adding that content should be aimed at benefitting your customer and not your operation. He also suggested scheduling social media posts and outsourcing content creation to staff to help save those in management time.
Additional sessions covered at BusCon 2017, included a panel discussion on aftersales service and warranties, how to reduce risk using core principles to improve driver safety, and compliance best practices for new and seasoned bus operators.
Transit Maintenance Forum
Returning for its second year, the Transit Maintenance Forum (TMF) also made its return to BusCon 2017, even bigger and better with three days of sessions including tech talks from Allison and Cummins representatives and federal updates from FTA representatives on bus testing and the Transit Asset Management Rule.
Also discussed was the progress being made in developing procurement and workforce development standards for electric buses, the benefits of both conductive and inductive charging solutions for electric buses, and what some transit agencies are doing to fill the maintenance training void at their operations.
BusCon 2018 returns to the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis Oct. 1 to 3.