The first 50 years of Collins Bus began with an innovation: the creation of the Type A school bus. Now, the company is kicking off the next chapter in its history with another milestone: a new model that aims to enhance accessibility for students who use wheelchairs.
The new bus, dubbed the Low-Floor, is the result of the company’s drive to develop a vehicle that reimagines special-needs transportation, providing equal access for all passengers while still meeting school bus safety standards.
“This is almost like [company founder] Don Collins introducing the first Type A school bus” in 1967, says Matt Scheuler, general manager of Collins Bus. “This is as big of an innovation as we’ve ever had.”
Ease of School Bus Access
The central feature of the Collins Low-Floor bus is a wide service door with an integrated wheelchair ramp. All students board through this door, either using a single step or the ramp when it’s deployed.
The ramp ties in with three key floor plans, with positions for one, two, or three wheelchair passengers. In any case, the bus avoids the need for a wheelchair lift or a multiple-step entrance. According to Scheuler, this levels the playing field for passengers, because everyone enters and exits the same way, regardless of their method of mobility.
Students who use wheelchairs are “integrated at the front of the vehicle with other children,” Scheuler says. “They’re more independent; they can wheel themselves on and off.”
The Low-Floor bus is also intended to provide a smooth ride for passengers seated in wheelchairs. The floor plans put the wheelchair positions around the center of the vehicle instead of behind the rear axle.
“Ride quality should be improved,” Scheuler says.
Eric Smith, transportation director for Seneca (Mo.) R-7 School District, checked out the Low-Floor bus at a recent trade show. He says the vehicle could be useful not only for students who use wheelchairs, but also for other students with walking impairments as well as for early childhood passengers who struggle with big steps. The result, Smith says, would be an increase in safety in the boarding process and a boost in confidence for those youngsters.
“Anytime you can have a child do something on their own, it lets them feel empowered,” Smith says. “You’re empowering that child to be more self-independent.”
Ramping up Efficiency
The Collins Low-Floor is built on the front-wheel-drive Ram ProMaster chassis and is powered by a 3.6-liter gasoline V6 engine. The bus has a wheelbase of 200 inches and a GVWR of 9,350 pounds.
Along with enhanced accessibility for students, the bus is designed to boost efficiency in the loading and unloading process. Scheuler says that the ramp takes 20 seconds to deploy and 20 seconds to stow back into position under the frame rail, and school bus drivers and aides don’t have to operate a lift for students in wheelchairs.
The Low-Floor model can be used either as a school bus or a commercial bus. With those different applications in mind, Scheuler notes that the ramp can accommodate the needs of a variety of passengers: students in wheelchairs, senior citizens with walkers, and passengers accompanied by service animals, to name a few.
The bus can carry up to 15 passengers, with a maximum of five seating rows.
School Bus Specs and Storage
Standard body equipment for the Collins Low-Floor bus includes 1/2-inch marine-grade plywood flooring, LED stop/tail/turn/backup and interior dome lights, one-piece tubular steel roof bows, and an electric entrance door. As Scheuler puts it, the vehicle has “all the quality of our manufacturing line.”
For the school bus attendant or aide, a passenger seat is positioned next to the driver’s seat. There are two overhead storage compartments — one above the driver and one above the passenger. Another compartment, integrated into the floor of the cab area, can be used to store such equipment as safety triangles and bodily fluid kits.
With an interior height of 77 inches at the center aisle, the vehicle has an “open, airy feel,” Scheuler says.
Among the options for the vehicle are three-point seats, 5/8-inch marine-grade plywood flooring, AM/FM/Bluetooth radio, backup alarm, backup camera, egress window, roof escape hatch, and floor seat track. Another option is a camera system that gives the driver a 180-degree view of the passenger loading side of the vehicle.
“Anytime you can have a child do something on their own, it lets them feel empowered.” Eric Smith, transportation director, Seneca (Mo.) R-7 School District
On the Road
Collins unveiled the new Low-Floor bus at the STN Expo in Reno, Nevada, in July. Before the show, Scheuler took the vehicle for a test drive and was pleased with how the Ram ProMaster chassis handles.
“It drives really nice — a lot like the Ford Transit chassis,” he says, referring to a chassis option for other Collins Type A buses.
Gus Kakavas, a school transportation consultant based in Toms River, New Jersey, gives a similar assessment of the Low-Floor bus. He says that it combines the best features of a cutaway bus with the nimbleness and control of a smaller front-wheel-drive minivan.
“In both good and bad weather, this new Collins [bus], with its front-wheel-drive engineering, will handle all situations with security and reassurance for the driver, passengers, and parents,” Kakavas says.
On the other hand, Scheuler notes that because the vehicle is lowered, it might not be suitable for more rugged routes.
“It is low, so you’re probably not going to want to take it through a mountainous environment,” Scheuler says. But he points out that while the Low-Floor bus is closer to the ground than other school buses, “it’s no lower than a passenger car.”
Based on chassis availability, Collins plans to put the Low-Floor model into full production in November.
Type A Trajectory
The launch of the Collins Bus Low-Floor comes as the company, now a subsidiary of Rev Group, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Don Collins founded the business, initially called E-Con-O Conversion, with the development of the first Type A school bus in 1967.
Other company milestones include the production of a Type A bus specifically for special-needs passengers in 1982; a multi-function school activity bus for child care in 1999; a propane Type A in 2009; and a compressed natural gas model in 2012.
Even with that line of progression, Scheuler says that the Low-Floor bus marks a new paradigm for Collins.
“We’ve never done something like this from the ground up since the beginning,” he says. “This product to me is almost like starting the next 50 years.”
Scheuler is quick to add that the dedication of Collins’ employees and dealers remains integral to the company’s success.
“Without them,” he says, “we would not be the Collins Bus that you see today.”