Last week, Omnitrans got its first look at one of its next generation of fifteen New Flyer buses that will be added to the fleet over the next two months. These vehicles are customized with new features and state of the art technology that will enhance passenger and operator safety and reduce down time due to mechanical failure. Because these buses also come fully painted, the need for a bus wrap is eliminated. This means they can be put into service almost immediately.
All of the new buses will come equipped with triple bike racks to better meet the needs of our multi-modal passengers.
The bus also features a new brake monitoring system, which offers an additional layer of safety. Currently, we schedule buses for bi-weekly brake inspections. With the new monitoring system, we will know immediately if the brakes are out of adjustment, or if there is a problem that needs attention.
“It’s this kind of technology that our guys in the shop are excited about,” says Maintenance Director Jack Dooley. “These buses have an extensive health monitoring system. If there are any problems with the transmission, engine, air-conditioning or on-board computer, we’ll be able to communicate with that bus in real time. We’ll have software on our shop computers that will allow us to actually track what is happening.
“If we receive a call that a vehicle has broken down, we will be able to tell what engine code came up, what the temperatures and pressures were. We can even look back further and see what was going on with the vehicle just before the problem occurred. This allows us to anticipate potential problems before they happen. For instance, if I see that a particular issue occurred before an engine failure, I can set up parameters on the computer to notify me when that same issue occurs in the future. This way we can look at it, diagnose it, and try to prevent a major problem before it happens.”
The new buses will also be better equipped for quick diagnosis, Jack points out. “There is an LCD screen on the dash that allows us to easily access the engine, the transmission, the air conditioning—the entire computer system—without hooking up a laptop. The screen is smaller than a typical cell phone, but it will still allow mechanics to go through the codes and pull up diagnostics on the spot. This is a huge benefit, because we have a limited number of laptops available. If one of them is not working or they are all in use, one may not be one immediately available when it’s needed. This will allow us to speed things up and have fewer breakdowns on the road.”
Additionally, the new buses will eliminate a common problem resulting in road calls.
Jack explains. “We’ve made a change to heating and air conditioning system, specifically the defrosting area. Sometimes operators turn off the fan but forget to shut off the heat valve, which circulates hot water to the front. Then later the bus would come in because the AC wasn’t working due to it being so hot in the front. Now the water will only circulate if the fan is on. This is another way we will lessen road calls and bus exchanges.”
Additional safety measures are also in place for our passengers with mobility devices. Each new bus will now have one rear-facing securement and one forward-facing Q-Pod securement, like those on our sbX vehicles.
The rear-facing system gives passengers with wheelchairs more independence. They back themselves into the area, pull the arm down and set their own brake on the mobility device without the need of the operator. It also helps reduce dwell time.
The forward facing wheelchair securement has a three point safety belt, something none of the other buses have. When the mobility device is in place but still rolled slightly forward, the coach operator will press a lever to the side of the forward-facing securement that controls the bottom harness. The lever has a 15 second delay that allows the coach operator to easily reach back and hook both straps of the mobility device onto the harness at the same time. The harness then retracts, pulling the mobility device securely against the back wall. This also prevents the coach operators from having to squeeze into a very tight space that could cause potential injury.
The third securement harness is in front, and is hooked to the inside of the mobility device. Once tightened, it pulls up against the side of the bus. This ensures the mobility device will not tip over because it is snugly attached to both the back and side of the bus. This is especially important with scooters, which have limited or no securement areas for the operator to latch onto.
Finally, the passenger will click together the lap belt to secure themselves to the mobility device. This way, should the operator have to make a hard stop for any reason, the person will remain safely attached to the mobility device.
Coach operators will also see changes in the front area of the bus. The driver seat now features an orange, three point safety belt. The belt is equipped with an alarm that goes off if the operator is not wearing it.
Another important safety feature on the new buses are the audible turn signals on the outside of the bus. A voice will warn pedestrians “Caution. This bus is turning left” or “Caution. This bus is turning right.”
“I’m very excited about the audible turn signals,” says Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera. “I’ve been doing research on it. It’s a new technology, but transit agencies who have installed them are seeing good results so far. We always want to be proactive in our safety measures.
“We’re incorporating the audible turn signals as a way to heighten awareness among pedestrians. It’s very easy for people to be distracted because they are busy talking on a cell phone or texting a message. You’ll see them walking with their heads down, sometimes even tripping because they’re not paying attention. Or they might be listening to music with ear-buds, not fully aware of their surroundings. The main purpose of the audible turn signals is to grab their attention and keep them safe.”
We have also added a special feature which allows the bus to be more accessible to our law enforcement partners in the event of an emergency situation.
Side view mirrors on the bus have been changed to a Euro style. They now hang from the top instead of coming up from the bottom, which helps to alleviate blind spots. The Mobile Data Terminal, which is part of the radio system, now sits on the left side of the dash.
The cameras, radio system, and automatic passenger counters come fully installed, which is something the agency has never done before. Previously we handled the installations ourselves, taking the equipment from and old bus and installing it into the new. Because of the immense preparations needed, buses were held back from service for longer periods of time.
The sunroof has been eliminated due to excessive heat from the sun, and a light has been installed over the fare box. At night, when the headlights are on and the operator opens the door, the light will automatically illuminate that area for better visibility.
Omnitrans is proud to usher in this latest addition to our fleet, which underscores our commitment to safety and service. With these solutions, we will be retiring our remaining 500 series coaches as well as a few of the 2001 New Flyer buses. Some will also be added to our contingency fleet.
The new 1300 series New Flyer buses will be based at the Omnitrans East Valley facility in San Bernardino.
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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