The Volvo 9700: Drivers like it

As Ryan’s Express grows, the company relies heavily on its six Volvo 9700s
By David Hubbard

Established in 1996 and now based in Torrance, CA, Ryan’s Express operates out of five locations that include Sacramento and San Diego, CA; Las Vegas, NV; and Phoenix, AZ.

Operating a mixed fleet of 150 assorted coaches, cutaways and school buses, the company provides standard coach charters, extended tours and contract shuttle services, as well as school activity transport.

Chief Executive Officer John Busskohl joined the company in February, bringing a lifetime of experience in his family’s coach company, Arrow Stage Lines, and subsequent positions with Coach America, Coach USA and the associated venture capital partners.

He moved to Ryan’s Express from his most recent position in transit management when his company, TransTech, sold to Keolis Transit America.

Since his arrival, Busskohl has worked to shore up best practices within the company and upgrade the Ryan’s Express fleet. All the coaches now run with GPS.

The company also recently rolled out the Coach Manager software platform to better manage and measure reservations, dispatch, billing and payroll, as well as vehicle maintenance.

Ryan’s Express and the Volvo 9700
Ryan’s Express received 10 of the first Volvo 9700 motorcoaches shipped to the United States from the Volvo Industrial de Mexico (VIM); manufacturing facility in 2010.

While the company reported some mechanical issues and a few matters with fit and finish, Busskohl says issues have been resolved with the six 2013 Volvo 9700s it recently received in trade for the original 10.

“We certainly commend Prevost and Volvo for the manner in which they stepped up to troubleshoot our concerns, and ensure everything was in working order on the new coaches,” Busskohl says. “Issues and glitches generally crop up in the first few models of any new line, and they seemed to have worked them out.”

Busskohl considers the six Volvo 9700s as the workhorses for tours. He made sure each of the five Ryan’s Express locations had a unit to operate.

He says that while the Prevost name stands for quality among “bus guys” like himself, customers are more familiar with the Volvo name as a brand that stands for safety.

Volvo 9700 safety features
Significant safety features on the Volvo 9700 include disc brakes with Electronic Braking System (EBS) and Electronic Stability Program (ESP). In a brake blending function, the auxiliary brakes activate before the wheel brakes. The engine brake delivers retardation over the speed range.

The front impact protection (FIP) for the driver absorbs and diverts impact in the event of a frontal collision. The Knee Impact Protection provides energy-absorbing panels to reduce the risk of injury to the lower extremities. In a collision in which the driver’s knees strike the instrument panel, the impact panels absorb the kinetic energy and crumple to minimize injury.

In the event of a front-on collision with an automobile, the front-under-run protection system (FUPS) protects the occupants in the car who face the greatest risk of injury. A steel beam behind the front bumper prevents the car from becoming wedged beneath the bus. In a collision, the beam deforms to absorb the car’s impact. Volvo is the first vehicle manufacturer to employ this type of frontal under-run protection on buses.

The engine’s fire suppression system incorporates linear thermal detection plus an optical infrared sensor to protect the engine compartment and auxiliary heater. The system provides audible and visual warnings to the driver in case of an incident.

Driver likes what he sees
Ryan’s Express driver Dan Waters works out of the Phoenix location and has one of the Volvo 9700s assigned to him for the longer tours throughout the western states, in which he reports his Volvo 9700 achieving seven to eight miles to per gallon fuel consumption.

BUSRide caught up with Waters at the end of a 15-day National Parks Tour of more than 3,000 miles through seven states. He offered his further observations on the performance and appeal of his coach.

“My first experience with the Volvo was in 2010 with one of the first units delivered to Ryan’s Express,” Waters says. “After driving the other motorcoach brands, my first impression was that it looked and handled like a smaller vehicle.”

He says the improvements to the coach since 2010 became apparent when he picked up his 2013 model in Dallas, TX, earlier this year.

“What a difference in the transmission,” he says. “I immediately noticed the shifter control pad on the left-hand side rather than the stick on the right. I also noticed power of the engine.”

Waters is referring to the Volvo I-Shift and Volvo D13 engine. Volvo calls the I-Shift an intelligent transmission system that combines the dependability of a manual gearbox with the comfort of an automatic transmission in selecting the best gear for the engine.

“The performance mode helped me in several times in tight places,” Waters says. “It goes through all the gears in very tight shifts. Hill Stop is also a welcome feature when the coach is stopped on an incline and I have to start moving.”

Waters also expressed his satisfaction with a feature only a coach driver can appreciate, and one rarely mentioned in a press release.

“The fresh water toilets are second to none,” he says. “Driving 40 passengers around for 15 days, I never had to dump the holding tank. There were no odors whatsoever emanating from the restroom at any time. The passengers never complained.”

In his seven years of driving a variety of brands and models, Waters says the interior of the Volvo 9700 feels smaller to him.

“The front wheels are actually behind the driver and the nose is longer, which took getting used to until I gained a feel for where the front wheels are,” he says.

The kneeling feature also gets Water’s attention.

“With the long nose, it is helpful to have the option of raising the front end in tight situations,” he says. “The kneeling feature has helped to ease through dips or rises in driveways and parking lots.”

Asked if he would change anything on the coach, Waters has one suggestion.

“If I have one complaint, it is the warning buzzer beneath the steps when the coach is kneeling during boarding and deboarding,” he says. “It beeps loudly and continuously and drives everyone crazy. I have received a lot of complaints from passengers about the noisy warning device. They ask if it beeps like that all the time, and they ask why I can’t turn it off.”

He also noted that the overhead parcel racks got a little crowded for the group on this trip.

“On an extended trip for a couple of weeks, people begin to collect stuff,” he says. “This trip was with 40 passengers. I can see where I might have problems with a full coach.”

Waters says he has made a number of shorter commuter runs and feels the Volvo 9700 is excellent for that type of service, and perhaps for tours shorter than 15 days.

Reporting on the handling of the Volvo 9700, Waters has nothing but praise and says he’s very content with his Volvo coach.

“It handles like a million bucks and is a driver’s dream,” he says. “What surprised me is how at 45 feet long, this coach still drives like a smaller vehicle. I really enjoy that feel out on the road.”