Setting the record for the largest-ever bus trade show in North America with more than 80 vehicles on the show floor, BusCon 2016 had something for every type of bus operator who visited the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis Sept. 19-21.

With a brand new revamped 2017 Krystal, now being built in Imlay City, Mich.; a Federal Spirit with an all-new fiberglass top; a Champion LF Transport; two vehicles from it’s all new World Trans brand; and Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves’ Indy Car, as well as Castroneves himself on Wednesday, the REV Group made quite a splash on the show floor, taking home BusCon Booth Awards for Best Booth Display (400 sq. ft. or larger) and Best On-Site Marketing along the way.

“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.”

REV displayed a Krystal KLX 40-foot model on a Freightliner S2C chassis during BusCon, featuring a 34-passenger capacity with rear luggage. Redesigned from the inside out, the 2017 Krystal will feature a drop-down TV, located near the front of the bus, as well as upgraded luggage racks with TV monitors. 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.”

The New Flyer/MCI booth.

The New Flyer/MCI booth.

Appearing side-by-side on the show floor for the first time anywhere, New Flyer and MCI also made a splash, showcasing both the MiDi and J4500, respectively.

Also side-by-side, were Blue Bird Commercial and Micro Bird, who debuted a couple of vehicles apiece on the show floor, including the Micro Bird D-Series MD, which took home Bus Con’s Booth Award for Best New Product/Service.

Designed for airport, parking, rental car and hotel markets, Micro Bird’s new bus featured a 42-inch middle door entrance, a wide body with a wide aisle and a total of 74 inches of luggage rack space.

Micro Bird also featured a CT-Series DLX built on a Ford Transit chassis, which features an optional luxury package with a grey vinyl interior, as well as a variety of passenger comfort and accessibility options.

“We’re really looking to expand our product line so we can meet the needs of all commercial applications,” said James Mansell Micro Bird’s national sales manager. “We’re excited to offer our dealers both of our new buses on the show floor, and in addition, with Blue Bird on board, we now have a full-set of offerings for dealers and customers accommodating 12 passengers and up.”

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 compressed natural gas (CNG) engine, or a Cummins ISB6.7 diesel engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission.

Also on the 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 searing for up to 48 passengers.

“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.”

In addition to a record amount of vehicles, BusCon 2016 also set a record for the most bus operators ever to attend the event. The 140,000 sq. ft. sold out show floor also offered the latest technological solutions on the market today for BusCon attendees, with more than 40 new suppliers that were not on the show floor in 2015.

Arboc Specialty Vehicles' Spirit of Equess

Arboc Specialty Vehicles' Spirit of Equess

Other Booth Award winners, included ACTIA Corp. (Best Booth: 300 sq. feet or less) and Arboc Specialty Vehicles (Best Vehicle Innovation). Arboc debuted the first-ever purpose-built, medium-duty, rural low-floor transit bus, the Spirit of EQUESS. A key vehicle feature is 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," said Arboc President/CEO Don Roberts. "It will have a rear engine set up available in diesel or CNG, these different power packs will be in modular design and easily removable."

Additionally, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. 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 floorplan 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.

TMF participants: Halsey King, VIA Metropolitan Transit's Gary Glasscick, APTA's Jeff Hiott, the FTA's Marcel Belanger and Booz Allen Hamilton's Steve Brady.

TMF participants: Halsey King, VIA Metropolitan Transit's Gary Glasscick, APTA's Jeff Hiott, the FTA's Marcel Belanger and Booz Allen Hamilton's Steve Brady.

In the classroom, BusCon also hosted the Inaugural Transit Maintenance Forum moderated by Halsey King, offering top transit maintenance professionals a chance to learn about all the latest federal regulations, as well as some of the newest technology set to hit their shops in the very near future.

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 tested at the agency’s Altoona Testing facility.

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 Final Rule, which requires transit agencies to implement a Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan within two years and establish preliminary state of good repair 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 State of Good Repair Rule, including lessons learned.

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

The informative session ended with a 30-minute Q&A, allowing maintenance officials a chance to get clarifications on anything discussed by Belanger, Hiott or Glasscock and to voice their concerns with any of the programs. Perhaps the biggest question was what kind of technologies were able to be used to help make the TAM requirement simpler.

Wednesday, TMF wrapped up with a slew of 20-minute tech talks featuring representatives from EnerDel, Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification, I/O Controls Corp. and WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Also new for this year was BusCon Connect – a hosted buyers program, which brought buyers and sellers together face-to-face in a more intimate setting than you’d typically find on the show floor.

During his excellent 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 analysis not only on your organization but yourself as well.

Melleady added 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.

The best and brightest were honored at BusCon’s Breakfast Awards Ceremony, including the winners of the second annual METRO Magazine Innovative Solutions Awards.

In all, METRO honored three bus operations and their supplier partners — Arrow Stage Lines and MCI; LA Metro, Parker Hannifin and New Flyer; and Pierce Transit, Munich RE; Rosco and Mobileye — for implementing a new initiative that helped them improve training, save money, run more efficiently, streamline operations or improve safety.

Halsey King was honored for his contributions to the industry and BusCon.

Halsey King was honored for his contributions to the industry and BusCon.

METRO and BusCon also honored industry stalwart Halsey King for his contribution to the bus industry, as well as his participation in every BusCon ever held.

During the awards ceremony, the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) also honored six fleets for their use of clean, domestic propane autogas, including the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System; Detroit’s Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation; Burlington, N.C.’s Alamance County Transportation Authority; Fayetteville, N.C.’s Fayetteville Area System of Transit; Richmond, Va.’s VanGo; and the City of Austin, Texas

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.

The packed electric bus session at BusCon.

The packed electric bus session at BusCon.

Attendees flooded the session rooms for two informative sessions: “How Alternative Fuels Can Work for You” and “The Continuing Evolution of Electric Buses.” The latter, which was moderated by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority’s Len Engel, who discussed his agency’s ambitious plan to be “Green by 2018,” included 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.

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. Stay tuned for more coverage in METRO's November/December issue.