The Transit-Liner C2 passes muster under a keen eye on a tough track
By David Hubbard
On the heels of its February debut at the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Motorcoach EXPO in 2017, the newest version of the Transit-Liner C2 from Thomas Built Buses is on the road for a coast-to-coast dealership tour after more than three years of extensive research and development.
The company says it is anticipating an enthusiastic response to what it sees as a perfect complement to most motorcoach fleets — given its purpose-built engineering and design, and its extensive range of customized options that transcend into the realm of motorcoaches.
Thomas Built Buses delivered the demo model to Auto Safety House, Phoenix, AZ, where BUSRide conducted this Official Road Test.
Celebrating 75 years in business, Auto Safety House serves a variety of operators in Phoenix, Tucson and throughout the Navajo and Hopi Reservations in northern Arizona. Auto Safety House has represented Thomas Built Buses for many years.
“We have always held Thomas Built Buses in high esteem and we appreciate our relationship with the company,” says Del Anderson, bus sales manager at Auto Safety House. “We are thrilled to introduce the Transit-Liner C2 to our customers. We believe this bus can realistically meet the higher expectations of motorcoach operators running more expensive equipment for specialized applications.”
BUSRide began discussing the Transit-Liner C2 in February during UMA Motorcoach EXPO in St. Louis, MO. In a sit-down interview on the bus, Thomas Built representatives Ed Swaim, product manager, and Mike Stotler, service manager, explained the concept for this entirely new vehicle – which they believe operators will perceive as the bridge between specialty buses and coaches.
“Thomas Built did not set out to design its version of a cross-country coach, but rather a purpose-built, heavy-duty product best suited for shorter day trips, employee shuttles and local charters,” Swaim says. “The essential difference between this bus and most cut-away and composite-type buses is our proprietary Transit-Liner C2 chassis, engineered to integrate only with this bus body. We have moved a step beyond body-on-chassis.”
The durable all-steel Transit-Liner C2 is built to the same exacting standards as a traditional Thomas Built school bus – focused on safety, reliability and durability. However, thoughtfully-designed exterior window treatments bring the design much closer to the look of a motorcoach.
Will build to suit
Thomas Built prides itself on the versatility of the Transit-Liner C2. Each Transit-Liner C2 comes off the line as a basic model. This allows Thomas Built dealers to work with each customer individually to accommodate their needs and preferences in a configuration that meets the price point each operator has in mind.
The fully-multiplexed Transit-Liner C2 chassis can accommodate an extensive menu of available operational components, safety equipment and luxury upgrades.
To list only a few, available electronic safety components may include air disc brakes, air ride suspension, and electronic stability control (ESC). The Zonar telematics system comes standard, while lane departure, crash avoidance technologies, tire pressure monitoring, a fire suppression system and PV360 camera system are options.
Options, options, options
Fully customizable, the Thomas Built business model is to outfit each unit to the specific needs of each customer. The available options can include coach-style seating, overhead storage, video systems, tinted windows and more. At the end of the day, it’s very likely that no two orders will be the same.
Comfort amenities include power outlets and USB ports at each seat, upgraded overhead lighting and a fully-integrated audio-visual entertainment system. An onboard restroom option is available, as well as an underfloor storage bay or a rear-storage compartment.
“Our current model clearly demonstrates the level of customization operators can expect,” Swaim says. “The model we’re testing today is equipped with nearly every available option. We run the gamut. We can offer this platform as a modestly outfitted utility bus – or we can accessorize it to the level of luxury found in VIP and executive shuttle buses. This is how we arrive at the price, and cost-conscious operators always have the option of downsizing to meet their budgets.”
The Official BUSRide Road Test
To put the Thomas Built claims and objectives to the test (and lend some objectivity to this effort), BUSRide engaged Arrow Stage Lines’ Phoenix facility to assist with the driving portion of this Road Test. Mark Ashcraft, safety and training coordinator for Arrow in Phoenix, agreed to test drive the Transit-Liner C2 – and to comment on his experience and observations.
Ashcraft is a motorcoach man through and through. Prior to his career with Arrow Stage Lines and his move to Phoenix, he drove for Great Southern Coaches in Arkansas and Heartland Trailways in Kansas.
He says, based on his past experiences with buses of this type, he accepted this invitation with a tinge of skepticism.
“When BUSRide called, I immediately researched the vehicle online,” Ashcraft says. “Frankly, I thought I was going to be looking at a bus fitted to a standard Freightliner chassis. Just another ‘long truck,’ I figured, and I had a few ideas of my own about how it would ride.”
For his test drive, Ashcraft chose his preferred training route for new recruits applying as drivers with Arrow Stage Lines.
The first leg features driving conditions unseen by most coach drivers. Heading east out of Phoenix on U.S. Route 60 and turning north at Apache Junction, Ashcraft maneuvered the bus down a rural, narrow and twisting two-lane highway featuring one-lane bridges and myriad blind curves. The route runs beyond Arizona’s famed Superstition Mountains to Tortilla Flats, a popular stop on the road near Canyon Lake, 35 miles east of Phoenix. This is an unforgiving land where motorcoaches rarely tread, except for Ashcraft and his aspiring Arrow Stage candidates.
“This route throws a lot at a trainee and the vehicle — and fast,” Ashcraft says. “This road is ideal for quickly giving a driver a feel for the coach, including a full understanding of how it handles.”
The second leg of Ashcraft’s test track is through
“Again, this is a tight and narrow route, but with the addition of sharp turns on city streets, stop-and-go traffic and hotel entrances with minimal clearances. All of this is near busy sports arenas with pedestrians, road construction and city traffic as distractions,” he says. “From these two very different scenarios, I can quickly determine if a person has what it takes to drive for Arrow Stage Lines.”
Ashcraft says it only took a handful of turns in the first few miles to realize the Transit-Liner C2 was far beyond the bus he expected.
“I have driven buses on truck-style chassis and can say with certainty that this chassis is much more stable,” he says. “From where I was sitting in the driver’s seat, the quality of the ride was smooth and stable. In terms of maneuverability and gain, the turning radius is excellent — even with the front axle in front of me rather than behind me. After a couple of turns, I found the Transit-Liner C2 very responsive and accommodating.”
At this point, Swaim noted that Ashcraft was responding to the proprietary Thomas Built chassis and not a Freightliner chassis; further adding that any similarity is only in their looks.
“This chassis carries the Thomas Built logo and is built solely for this bus by its own team of engineers,” he says. “The suspension is designed strictly for a bus carrying passengers.”
Ashcraft noted that other buses he had driven that were comparable to the Transit-Liner C2 did not offer the same safe feel.
“Coming out of Tortilla Flats and down that twisting, desolate stretch of highway, I intentionally pushed it a little faster than I would normally,” he says. “It handled beautifully in the turns and was easy to maneuver in the tight streets of downtown Phoenix.”
Offering a few parting comments, Ashcraft says he can easily see motorcoach operators using the Transit-Liner C2 for local shuttles, in-town charters, and perhaps an occasional overnight trip. He says a longer trip would likely not be feasible, only because of the limited luggage storage.
Clearly, the Transit-Liner C2 received a positive reception from Auto Safety House, as well as professional, safe driver Mark Ashcraft. No doubt this will serve as an indication of what Thomas Built Buses can expect, as more coach operators preview this exceptional new entry into the midsize bus market.