BUSRide Road Test: Supreme rolls out the Friendly Bus

Variations on the Senator SII Low Floor

By David Hubbard

Claiming Equal Access for all, the Supreme Corporation, Goshen, IN, calls the newest iteration of its Senator SII LF the Friendly Bus. Built on the Ford F-450 front-wheel drive platform, this vehicle can function as a shuttle or paratransit bus.

The Supreme Senator SII Low Floor features front wheel drive by Dallas Smith.

The Friendly Bus builds from a Ford 450 chassis, which is rear-wheel drive before Supreme ships it to its manufacturing partner, Dallas Smith Corporation, Greencastle, IN, for the conversion to front-wheel drive to accommodate the low-floor passenger cabin.

The company says its IntelliSYNC® four-point air-ride suspension system by Parker Hannifin is at the core to produce a ride quality comparable to the best low floor vehicles. This is a complete front and rear air-ride suspension package for on-demand kneeling at a complete stop. Dallas Smith says this technology can bring a vehicle frame rail height down to as low as 18 inches in a matter of seconds and return it to the standard ride height just as quick.

Dallas Smith notes that the system has completed Altoona 7-Year/200,000-mile testing, as well as the STURAA test and encountered no Class 1 or Class 2 failures.

Taylor appreciated the dual sided and rear entrance and would opt for an even wider back door to accommodate scooters and oversized wheelchairs.

The fully independent suspension Axleless® suspension systems provide extreme low floors by eliminating the rear axles in cab chassis vehicles and trailers. With GVWR ratings maintained, Axleless provides a smooth ride, which Dallas Smith says was previously unachievable with conventional, straight-axle suspensions. As an air-ride system, the Axleless also offers kneeling capabilities as a bonus.

The paratransit version can be equipped with either a manually deployed or fully mechanical wheelchair ramp with nine passenger seats plus two wheelchair positions for the paratransit bus. The shuttle version carries up to 15 in forward facing seats in customized configurations.

For a firsthand review of this particular Friendly Bus destined for an unnamed operator in Canada, BUSRide called on Royal Excursion, a locally owned and operated motorcoach company in nearby Mishawaka, IN, and recipient of the 2010 BUSRide Motorcoach Industry Achievement.

Veteran driver Tom Taylor, director of interurban routes for Royal Excursion, consented to meet with the members of the Supreme engineering team at its headquarters for a road test in the Goshen area. Taylor primarily drives motorcoaches for Royal Excursion, but says he is very familiar with buses of this size, and occasionally drives a 29-foot shuttle for a Royal Excursion contract. He shared his impressions beginning with the walk-around in the parking lot.

Tom Taylor, veteran coach driver for Royal Excursion, test-drove the Supreme Friendly Bus.

“I see a lot of these cutaway-type buses, and they always look nice when they are new,” he says. “With the harsh cold wet winters in northern Indiana and the slush and salts, I am interested in how they hold up over two or three years; even six months to a year.”

Specific to the Supreme bus, he continued:

“I was really pleased to see the materials Supreme is using in this bus, namely the stainless steel construction,” he says. “With all the slush and salts that can get tracked into the vehicle, this one won’t be rusting out soon. The rubber strip on the entrance doors is much sturdier than most and seals better when the doors close. It helps keeps the elements and the heat in.”

The Supreme body connects to the fiberglass cab from the manufacturer.

“I have noticed a lot of rattling and squeaking in these type buses after about six months as the cab moves one way and the body the other,” says Taylor. “But from what I saw and experienced while driving this model, I wouldn’t expect that to be the case.”

In this case, instead of attaching the body directly to the cab, Supreme has connected the two units with a heavy accordion rubber sleeve sealed around the sides.

“I didn’t see where there would be any interference as the body and cab flex differently,” says Taylor. “There is no overhang over the cab. It looks very nice.”

He drove the bus into a WalMart parking lot where he could put it through a series of tight turns.

“I noticed the smooth handling right off,” he says. “The front wheel drive has a very nice tight turning radius, and I didn’t detect any rattles.”

Looking at the transfer case, Taylor commented on the durability of the rubber boot, noting it seemed sturdy and leak proof. The group then headed to the Goshen Airport.

“The airport is small and not too busy, so they let us take a few runs up and down the taxi way,” says Taylor. “I wanted to feel how the gears shifted and check the stability, particularly for the passengers in the back. I was actually somewhat surprised. The independent suspension makes all the difference.”

Did Taylor see anything he would change?

“Not really,” he says. “However, I wouldn’t mind seeing several of the optional features become standard components; namely the duel entrance. It makes accessibility and handicapped loading much easier in more situations.”

Taylor says if he were to buy the Supreme Friendly Bus, he would ask the company to widen the back entrance to make clearance for scooters and oversized wheelchairs.

“We hear comments and suggestions from our engineers,” says Bill Danner, director of Supreme bus sales. “But to ride on the Friendly Bus and visit with such an experienced driver as Tom Taylor, who sits behind the wheel eight hours a day, and get his impressions is valuable information.”  BR