OFFICIAL BUSRide Road Test: ARBOC Specialty Vehicles
ARBOC Specialty Vehicles
2015 Spirit of Liberty
By David Hubbard
The Spirit of Liberty is ready to roll
ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, Middlebury, IN, recently drove its Spirit of Liberty to the BUSRide headquarters in Phoenix for an Official BUSRide Road Test. Four years in the making, the company says it has successfully met its original challenge to engineer and develop a rear-drive, low-floor pusher bus with a continuous plane aisle from front to rear.
“With the completion of product development and production phases, this unique medium-duty low-floor transit bus is now ready for market,” says ARBOC National Sales Manager Ken Becker. “The Spirit of Liberty has completed all required testing including the rigorous Altoona process, and is now eligible for FTA funding.”
ARBOC offers the Spirit of Liberty in two lengths: 30 feet and 35 feet. The longer model can accommodate up to six oversized wheelchairs within 54-inch long zones, which exceeds ADA guidelines. The 30-foot model handles four wheelchairs in the same size space. The overall body height is 120 inches (excluding roof hatch or A/C); overall width is 100 inches. Interior height is 85 inches front, 79 inches rear; interior width is 97 inches.
MV Transportation, the paratransit management partner for Valley Metro RPTA, participated with BUSRide for this road test. Catherine Kadrich, a veteran paratransit driver for the company, took the wheel for a third-party review of the new vehicle.
Kadrich’s passion for commercial transportation began with chauffeuring her mother who served as a missionary. She quickly graduated into big rig trucking and eventually turned to driving transit buses in Jacksonville, FL, and school buses in Texarkana, TX. Now back home in Phoenix, AZ, Kadrich says she has found her calling in paratransit service, where her people skills and penchant for customer service flourish.
Marvin Rochelle, a longtime regular customer of Valley Metro Dial-A-Ride, was on-board to offer his observations and comments as a passenger with disabilities. Over the years, Rochelle has participated on various advisory committees involved in the planning of paratransit services and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the greater-Phoenix area.
Before leaving the MV Transportation yard, Kadrich put the bus through a full-circle turn to get the feel of the turning radius.
“It was surprisingly short and tight for a bus of this size,” she says. “I could tell this bus would be very responsive.”
“We have demonstrated on several occasions that our 35-foot model can handle challenging routes that transit agencies typically utilize 30-foot heavy-duty buses for,” Becker adds. “This means extra passenger capacity at a medium-duty price point.”
The 35-foot model Kadrich drove has a 202-inch wheelbase with an impressive 55-degree wheelcut.
“The 30-foot model features a 150-inch wheelbase, which is much shorter than a comparable cutaway bus,” Becker says. “This bus can actually turn inside that turning radius.”
For the test, Kadrich first took the bus north on Interstate-17 before choosing a winding route through central Phoenix, resembling her typical day transporting passengers to and from medical plazas, assisted living centers and shopping malls. The long curving entrance to the freeway was a good test.
“I immediately liked how this bus held the curves,” she says. “It only took a few blocks for me to realize this is a solidly-built vehicle with some very nice features. The ride is quiet and the driver’s area is comfortable. I especially like how the mirrors are positioned, similar to what I was used to when I drove transit buses in Jacksonville.”
The only concern Kadrich had with the Spirit of Liberty as tested was with its acceleration.
“Traffic typically backs up on the freeway entrances, particularly during the morning and afternoon rush hours,” she says. “I would’ve appreciated just a little more pick-up on the ramp and as I was working my way into traffic.”
Meanwhile, Rochelle had maneuvered his motorized wheelchair over the 41-inch wide, 1:6 Braun ramp through the angled entrance door set at 5-degrees for his easier turn in and out of the bus.
“The wheelchair tie-downs are fantastic,” he says. “No give, no shaking. They are solid; the best I have ever experienced.”
Becker says the Q’POD by Q’Straint, an option on the vehicle, is a unique wheelchair securement system. In the case of a mobility scooter, another strap comes out of the wall and attaches and cinches the device into position. It makes securing down a wheelchair or scooter very simple and quick.
Kadrich concurs with Rochelle on the Q’POD.
“I took comfort in these lock-down restraints as well,” Kadrich says. “The chair never moves, even during quick, tight turns. I am always concerned for what is going on with my passengers, and it was gratifying to know that Marvin felt so secure.”
Rochelle says he also appreciated the wide and tall windows and solid feel in the flooring. The Spirit of Liberty windows as tested (frameless solid-bonded windows) are an upgrade option, as well as T-slider windows. Solid-frame windows are standard.
Rochelle also commented on what he thought was a “level” floor, saying he felt very secure in his wheelchair.
“In reality, the 2-degree slope in the floor is so negligible that Marvin was not aware of the slant,” Becker says. “This slightly sloped single-plane floor allows all to use the rear seats regardless of mobility concerns.”
A single-unit front wheel tub facilitates a smooth transition from the ramp into the interior and driver’s area. This fiberglass section fits seamlessly into 5/8-inch wood flooring with a poly-urea-coated underside, similar to truck bed liner. The topside is standard transit flooring material.
“The Spirit of Liberty body design is entirely vacuum laminated fiberglass reinforced plastic including the roof,” Becker says. “Only a few OEMs undertake this process. Most glue the wall.”
ARBOC and FCCC
ARBOC entered into an exclusive collaborative agreement with Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC), Gaffney, SC, to engineer the patented XBA chassis for the Spirit of Liberty. The A stands for ARBOC.
“Our partnership with Freightliner gives our customers operators access to warranted aftermarket service and parts through the expansive network of Freightliner service facilities,” says ARBOC President and CEO Don Roberts. “We would not have been able to provide this service benefit on our own.”
The chassis is fitted with a four-corner air ride suspension which requires only the front to kneel, as well as Bosch hydraulic actuated disc brakes front and rear with antilock braking (ABS).
Putting the bus through several controlled sudden stops, Kadrich noted the ease and responsiveness of the braking system. This includes the variable geometry turbo exhaust brake (VGT) which works similar to the traditional Jake Brake but without any of the noise.
“What truly surprised me about this bus are the hydraulic brakes with the built-in exhaust brake,” Kadrich says. “I have not experienced anything like this in other buses. I like the feel of the bus slowing automatically, which is a tremendous safety asset if the driver is fatigued or inattentive for some reason.”
“I was a little hesitant to step hard on the brakes,” she adds. “But the bus slowed quickly and smoothly, so I wasn’t worried about jostling my passengers. I think they would be okay and understand during any emergency braking situation.”
The Cummins ISB 6.7L diesel 240 hp and Allison B220 Heavy Duty six-speed transmission make up the only available drive train. The drive axle is Detroit; the front drop axle is Meritor.
The rooftop HVAC system is a Dual TC 80 Tropicool. ARBOC recommends a dual-system like this for hotter climates, particularly in the South and Southwest deserts. The driver enjoys a separate heat and AC system with separate controls. An energy-absorbing bumper is optional.
“For easy maintenance, the single top-lift rear door to the engine compartment has extended height and width and top hinged style for safe access to the engine compartment,” Becker says.
The bus is equipped with a rear-engine run box that allows the service technician to shut off the front ignition for safety while working on the bus. It also allows the bus to be started from the rear for testing purposes. On the curbside of the vehicle is an equipment box housing the batteries, master switch and other common maintenance items.
The Spirit of Liberty is the next offering from ARBOC’s family of low-floor buses, from 14 passengers to 37 passengers, which also includes the company flagship Spirit of Mobility and Spirit of Freedom. Keep following ARBOC for the next low-floor design.
“We are committed to the low-floor bus,” Roberts says. “We now have three models and are looking at doing more engineering work for upcoming models.”
Visit ARBOC Specialty Vehicles online at www.arbocsv.com