JAUNT commuters CONNECT with low-floor buses by ARBOC
Since 1975, JAUNT has provided public transit services to the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the surrounding counties of Louisa, Buckingham, Nelson, Fluvanna and Albemarle. Today its fleet of 85 vehicles primarily provides demand-response service, as well as connector, circulator and express fixed-routes in certain locations.
In 2019, JAUNT rebranded its commuter service as CONNECT, which provides customers in the rural areas of Virginia with connections to the Charlottesville urban center.
To enhance the services that CONNECT provides, the agency worked with Sonny Merryman, Inc. which has several locations in Virginia, and is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading bus dealers; and ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, North America’s low-floor, body-on-chassis (“cutaway”) bus leader, on deploying ARBOC’s Spirit of Mobility low-floor shuttles.
“We wanted to target very specific audiences, like commuters and those making mid-day trips, allowing them to travel from our suburban and rural areas to the main city center,” said JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield.
Funding for the Spirit of Mobility buses was secured by JAUNT through the Commonwealth of Virginia. After exploring multiple options, JAUNT was attracted to the “upscale” ARBOC buses with their superior low-floor design, 23-passenger capacity and Altoona tested seven-year / 200,000-mile lifespan, according to Mark Roberts, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Sonny Merryman. The dealer, which delivers between 1,200 to 1,400 vehicles per year, has been a longtime partner with JAUNT and ARBOC.
“ARBOC Specialty Vehicles has a reputation for building a quality design that lasts,” Roberts said. “JAUNT was comfortable buying through Sonny Merryman because we’ve proven through the years that we provide quality service after the sale. They needed a new brand, a new identity, for the CONNECT service, and ARBOC was the perfect choice.”
JAUNT initially purchased two ARBOC buses in 2017. When the test service was launched, Sheffield said that rider feedback was immediate. In addition to the low-floor design, passengers reacted positively to JAUNT-specified USB charging ports. The agency further improved their service with free passenger Wi-Fi and new digital signage.
“We took the high-quality buses that ARBOC constructed and added our own touch for the rider’s convenience,” Sheffield said. “The immediate positive feedback made us realize that this purchase was more than just JAUNT buying a different bus, It was providing an entirely new transit experience for our clientele.”
Today, the commuter line features eight ARBOC Specialty Vehicles’ low-floor buses. Sheffield said that the ARBOC low-floor design, unique in JAUNT’s fleet, is the biggest factor in CONNECT’s greater user experience.
“Boarding these buses just feels different, in comparison to the older ones in the fleet,” he said. “Passengers walk right on, and don’t have to take time with a stairwell. It contributes to them associating their positive experience with the CONNECT brand.”
Sheffield said that CONNECT’s riders have been the biggest advocates. The easy-to-use, comfortable bus makes customers want to spread the word and has led to a marked increase in ridership for the service.
Sheffield added that the kneeling low-floor keeps passengers using wheelchairs from being separated from the ambulatory passengers. JAUNT’s enhanced rider experience, he said, fits perfectly with ARBOC’s slogan, “Equal Access for Everyone®.”
“Our clientele gravitates to the culture of JAUNT, and the experience it provides,” he said. “They don’t feel like they’re boarding a typical transit bus. The Spirit of Mobility enhances this experience, and it grabs attention – further attracting riders.”