Accessibility, Mobility and Philanthropy are the Spirit of ARBOC

Posted on September 25, 2014 by Kelsey Nolan

Today, ARBOC manufactures 500 buses per year and has three different lines of low-floor vehicles: The Spirit of Mobility, The Spirit of Freedom and the new Spirit of Liberty
Today, ARBOC manufactures 500 buses per year and has three different lines of low-floor vehicles: The Spirit of Mobility, The Spirit of Freedom and the new Spirit of Liberty

Since 2008, ARBOC Specialty Vehicles has created an entirely new market by creating low-floor small cutaway buses and allowing accessibility for everyone.

Originally formed as ARBOC Mobility LLC, this Middlebury, Ind. based low-floor vehicle company merged with All American Specialty Vehicles in 2011 to create ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, a single entity that handles the manufacturing, engineering, marketing and sales of their unique technology.

The Market Need
Don Roberts, president/CEO of ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, explains the idea behind the company was accessibility for everybody. He says that looking back over the transit bus history, every available option was high-floor, even in big city buses. Over time, large transit buses transitioned to low-floor options, but there was still nothing in the small cutaway business that allowed for low-floor options. This made it impossible for people in wheelchairs to load or unload themselves.

“Accessibility for people in wheelchairs used to mean that they are always put on a lift, put up in the air and pushed inside. This puts them in a spotlight, so to speak,” Roberts says. “The other passengers would see them sitting there waiting to be loaded. If it’s raining outside or it’s snowing or it’s cold or it’s hot, they are out there.”

After extensive market research, ARBOC knew the need was there. Ken Becker, ARBOC’s sales manager, explains that as the baby boomer generation ages, there is a bigger demand for accessibility that will just keep growing — there are 57 million people with disabilities in the U.S. and 92% of all large transit buses are now ramp accessible. It made perfect sense for there to be a cutaway product developed in the same vein.

The solution was simple. Roberts explains that by adding a ramp to the interior of the small cutaway bus, it moves people in wheelchairs into the front as well as well as the back. ARBOC refers to this new range of mobility as random access. The result is a significantly decreased load time and an option for people using wheelchairs, scooters or electric chairs to load themselves. This accessibility gives them a better sense of independence.

Through its Spirit of Alexandria Charitable Foundation, ARBOC has connected over 80,000 children to nature.
Through its Spirit of Alexandria Charitable Foundation, ARBOC has connected over 80,000 children to nature.
The present
Today, ARBOC manufactures 500 buses per year and has three different lines of low-floor vehicles: the Spirit of Mobility, the Spirit of Liberty and the Spirit of Freedom. Before the end of the year, ARBOC will ship its 2000th bus. With this rapid success, the company is evaluating ways to grow and expand while continuing to provide accessibility for everyone.

ARBOC has made significant redesigns to both the Spirit of Mobility and the Spirit of Freedom lines to be launched for the 2015 year. These are to include new style front fiberglass caps and a new ABS interior to match, made by the automotive design house, Tangent Designs. Plus, the company is changing the suspension to one created by Reyco Granning, which offers nationally recognized suspension packages.

Additionally, ARBOC partnered with Freightliner to build an exclusive chassis for the Liberty model. The chassis frame rails are built by EA Technologies, which are completely electrocoated to prevent corrosion. The results will be a totally new look, easily recognized as ARBOC.

Roberts says the company is also pursuing other markets, such as hybrid and electric models, in addition to offering gas, diesel, propane and CNG options, currently. ARBOC, as the largest CNG cutaway bus manufacturer, has sold CNG vehicles to more than 120 transit agencies in the last five years, including the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system, which employs 123 ARBOC CNG buses.

Any changes or improvements ARBOC makes to its vehicles are entirely customer driven, Roberts says. He and his team don’t wait for a model change if a new initiative needs to be implemented. Instead, they’ll change it right away.

The latest applied and specially patented technology is a 12-degree angled door that allows for a passenger in a wheelchair to follow the natural curve of the bus rather than having to turn 90-degrees upon loading. The company exceeds all federal ADA regulations because of its 1-6 ramp angle.

The Spirit of Giving
ARBOC’s commitment to improving lives does not end with its vehicles. The company strives to give back as well and as often as they can.

When the granddaughter of Jim Bartell, the founder of ARBOC Mobility, passed away suddenly in 2006, the family created a foundation in her honor. For the last nine years, ARBOC has helped fund the Spirit of Alexandria Charitable Foundation as the organization works to connect children to nature. Alexandria Bartell loved being outdoors, attending road trips with Roberts and her grandfather to places like Yellowstone National Park as they demoed early versions of their buses. Since her death, the foundation has connected over 80,000 children to nature.

Since the Spirit of Alexandria began, the foundation has used converted ARBOC vehicles into classrooms at the Howell Nature Center in Michigan and the Raptor Center birds of prey rescue. These centers give presentations at different schools to educate about birds of prey. The Teton Science School has also been created to promote and send kids every year to commune and spend time with nature.

“It’s all about the kids and nature and what life should be about,” Roberts says. “It’s amazing how many kids in cities don’t really know what nature is really like. We are giving them an opportunity to go out and see it.”

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