The Type A school bus, workhorse of the special-needs transportation system, edged closer to pre-pandemic sales levels last year. School bus manufacturers sold 6,777 of the smaller buses in 2022, up 39.1% compared to the previous year.
But despite some new innovations in this bus type, some manufacturers have struggled to meet production demand due to shortages of the chassis used to build the Type A.
The School Bus Chassis Shortage
Last October, the National School Transportation Association reached out to the U.S. Department of Transportation, outlining concerns about impact on the Type A bus market by the small bus parts supply chain – particularly chassis.
“Type A school buses are a vital part of America’s student transportation system, and our members across the country are adversely affected by price increases, delayed delivery times, and aging of their current school bus fleets,” wrote NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn in his letter to USDOT.
The NSTA recommended:
- Chassis manufacturers set aside units for student transportation services.
- Expanding DOT’s Port and Infrastructure and Supply Chain Resiliency Programs.
- Developing economic incentives for small bus chassis production.
- Streamlining current procurement regulations to ease the bottleneck.
John Phraner, president of manufacturer Trans Tech, said: “Like most other school bus manufacturers, we are still susceptible to ongoing global supply chain problems, and it seems like just when we start to see some normalcy in the market, we get hit with something else.”
Innovating School Bus Technology Despite Adversity
Shortages and supply chain chokepoints aren’t hindering optimism for Phraner and other industry leaders, though.
“Trans Tech has always been on the forefront of school bus safety and innovation,” Phraner said. “From launching our first all-electric school bus in 2011 to our industry-leading Versa Track seating and galvanized steel pan-formed floors, we pride ourselves on moving the industry forward and building a bus-driver’s bus that’s built to last.”
He also expects the company to expand its all-electric school bus production capacity to meet demand created by mandates in California and New York.
Fraser Atkinson, CEO of GreenPower Motor Company, noted that his company hasn’t been directly affected by the chassis shortage when it comes to production of the Type A Nano BEAST, because it is built on GreenPower’s EV Star Cab and chassis, making them their own chassis supplier.
“What sets GreenPower apart is that all of our vehicles are purpose-built to be battery-powered with zero-emissions,” Atkinson said. “We pride ourselves on the clean design approach that allows for optimal battery placement and weight distribution for a vehicle to accommodate a large enough energy supply to deliver a longer range and set the new standard for zero-emission student transportation.”
Added Atkinson: “We constantly look for new technologies and ways to improve our vehicles for our customers. Most recently, we deployed a version of the Nano BEAST that serves the needs of special education students and children with disabilities by including wheelchair lifts and securements while featuring a flat floor to ensure excellent accessibility for those wheelchairs and ensure that there are no seats with compromised legroom so that every student can have a safe and comfortable ride.”
The new Pegasus Valkyrie Type A school bus, built on a VIA electric cutaway chassis, ranges in weight from 12,500 to 14,000 pounds. Its electric motors are expected to generate a continuous rated 400 horsepower within a range of 180 miles. The company’s also making Type A Atlas school buses using the Zeus Electric Chassis Power Platform. The ground-up design of the Zeus Z-19 cab-chassis is purpose-built and optimized for bus body installation and system integration.
“Its robust frame rail construction and purpose-built electric chassis makes the Z-19 unique right out of the gate,” said Brian Barrington, president of Pegasus. “Honestly, those two things alone separate what we’re doing from anything else that’s currently on the market.”
Industry mainstay MicroBird continues to innovate in the Type A space, developing a bus with 36-passenger capacity, an ergonomically improved console on Ford commercial buses, a 90-inch luggage rack, and higher air-conditioner capacity with 90,000 BTUs.
And in spring, Collins Bus offered a new zero-emission Ford E-Transit Type A school bus that features a fully electric powertrain with a 68 kWh high-voltage battery and an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty.
“Collins Bus is renowned for its commitment to driver and passenger safety innovation with unparalleled bus structure designs, driver visibility, and driver safety features,” said Bryce Pfister, vice president and general manager of Collins Bus.
The new bus design includes:
- A narrow-body design allowing for easy vehicle maneuverability.
- A large view-out window that reduces blind spots while enhancing visibility.
- One-piece tubular roof bow design for structural integrity.
- 5-year body warranty and limited lifetime paint warranty.
“Ford and Collins Bus have a long history working together to provide mobility solutions for school systems, and now, we’re delighted to offer a more sustainable choice for their customers with E-Transit,” said Raj Sarkar, Ford Pro general manager of product marketing and strategy. “For use-cases with condensed routes, the Type A school bus package on E-Transit can be a great zero-emissions solution for student transportation.”