PALATKA, Fla. -- On Friday, October 15, U.S. Representative John Mica (FL-7th) -- the Ranking Member of the House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee -- helped unveil the new Brevi Bus low-floor vehicle developed and built by Putnam County's Ride Solution. Joined by a collection of Palatka city and Putnam County officials, representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation and transit providers from across Florida, Congressman Mica officially launched the new low-floor bus specifically designed for the 50 percent of Putnam County roads that are unpaved, offering better service to riders along with improved efficiency and performance.
When Ride Solution sought to replace its aging vehicle fleet earlier this decade, it initially investigated purchasing new buses from existing manufacturers. However, as the agency had transitioned its service patterns from a mix of fixed route and demand-response operation to flexible routes -- often termed fixed-route deviation -- it needed a vehicle that could serve every location in the county, including dirt roads with deep ruts that wreak havoc on suspensions. Indeed, Ride Solution's initial fleet of cutaway vans lasted only a few years before they required replacement. After Rep. Mica helped the agency secure investment to support the purchase of new equipment, Ride Solution -- led by Director of Transportation Boyd Thompson -- proposed a bold response: the agency would design and build its own vehicles, tailored to their specific needs.
"They needed a vehicle to meet their needs," said Rep. Mica. "I was skeptical at first, because their own vehicles were not in good shape and transit providers typically don't build their own vehicles."
Thompson explained that if the agency could improve its vehicle efficiency by ten percent, it would realize savings of around $170,000 per year, making possible an additional 15,000 annual trips and an increase in average of speed of 2 miles per hour. When coupled with avoiding the need to continually replace its vehicles and also provide more responsive and reliable service, Ride Solution's investment of resources and talent in such a project would be worthwhile for the agency over the long-term.
After a series of tests and prototypes, Ride Solution's engineers and mechanics teamed up with a former Diamler-Crysler designer to fashion the blueprints for what would become the Brevi Bus. The design was focused on a low-floor foundation with a fold-out accessible ramp to allow all passengers to easily board and move through the bus. Meanwhile, its unique H-Drive technology positions the transverse engine and transmission above and behind the rear axle, allowing for the low-floor arrangement. The structure not only makes a smaller vehicle possible -- 26- or 22-feet, as opposed to customary 30-foot buses -- but also makes for a shorter wheelbase more attuned to the challenges of unpaved, rural roads. The larger version of the design can host 25 passengers, while the smaller model can move 21. Full technical details on the Brevi Bus can be found here.
The combination of a smaller-size vehicle with a low wheelbase makes the vehicle an ideal fit for community transportation providing service on the challenging roadways of rural America. With the concept formalized and a prototype vehicle constructed, Congressman Mica worked to insert new provisions in federal legislation to allow construction of the bus using investment targeted for research. With investment secured, Ride Solution's 10-person Brevi Bus team went to work building the first Brevi Bus in April, 2009, which was completed this past January. Much like the work of the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority in manufacturing its own distinctive streetcars, Ride Solution had successfully built its own transit vehicle. It dispatched the first bus to Putnam County's most challenging dirt roads this past spring, with a tow truck along in case the vehicle got stuck. In fact, while the bus navigated the treacherous roads with ease, the tow truck itself became mired in the ruts. Ride Solution's website includes actual video of the bus in action over rough Putnam County dirt roads.
"This was a great success for Putnam County and Palatka, and a credit to the innovation and hard work of everyone at Ride Solution to make this a reality," said Rep. Mica. "This will make a difference in the lives of Putnam County residents, while also saving the taxpayers' dollars with an efficient vehicle that's tailor-made for the needs of the community."
"This bus will improve access to transportation by 30 percent in Putnam County, but we're also always looking for improved efficiency on behalf of the taxpayers," added Thompson. "This vehicle represents a good deal of time and talent devoted by our employees to produce a fantastic end product."
Before the Brevi Bus can officially enter service on Ride Solution routes, it must first undergo the Federal Transit Administration's new model bus testing program in Altoona, Penn., which Congressman Mica is working to ensure occurs in early 2011. Once the bus is certified for operation, it will join an additional four other Brevi Buses constructed by Ride Solution assigned to regular service.
Although the Brevi Bus might ultimately be a natural fit for community and public transportation providers across the nation -- and around the world -- operating service in rural areas, Ride Solution's charter prohibits it from manufacturing vehicles for outside entities. Congressman Mica, along with Ride Solution and state, county and local officials are considering options to unite the project with manufacturing interests to establish a production strategy for the technology, and hope to bring long-term, stable manufacturing jobs to Putnam County as a result.
"I believe there is a market for vehicles like these around the nation, and we'll do everything we can to make that a reality," said Rep. Mica. "It's suitable not just for Putnam County, but the entire country."
In the meantime, local officials are excited by the improved service that will me made possible by the Brevi Bus along with the opportunities for producing the vehicle for other transit providers.
"This is an example of the innovative spirit of the citizens of Putnam County, and fosters opportunities for more new jobs here -- the right kind of jobs that involve making tangible things through hard work," says Putnam County Commissioner Brad Purcell.
"This bus serves people, which means a whole lot to us," adds Purcell's fellow County Commissioner Nancy Harris. "We look forward to the possibilities for new jobs, but we know the Brevi Bus will improve the lives of Putnam County residents right away, and that's why we're here."
Click here, to view a collection of photos from the Brevi Bus unveiling..