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Old 06-04-2020, 06:22 AM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Considering a Transit. Differences from a skoolie?

Hullo again y'all.

I'm considering a city transit bus for the added headroom - very important to me at 6' - without the complication or expense of doing a roof raise. A roof raise is simply not in my budget or skill set, and the more I imagine that ceiling in my line of vision 24/7..

I have found a decent price on a 2007 Gillig Phantom High Floor, 35' long., Cummins ISM with Allison B400R. It looks perfect for me. (I'll make a thread about that specific bus if it seems necessary after I take a look at it.) There are threads about the differences between skoolies and transits, but none of them answered my questions.

What I want to know is..
-Are there differences in the design of city transit busses that make any part of the demo or construction significantly different (besides undercarriage boxes, extra doors)? Is the chair rail still structural?
-How difficult is it to source parts and tires? Is the expense more? How much more?
-How difficult is it to find a mechanic as compared to a school bus?
-Is the legal process the same for registering and insuring the vehicle as an RV?
-What about inspection?
-Am I allowed to use the LED sign or do I have to disable it in the same manner one has to disable any school bus identification?
-Is the MPG I can expect similar to a school bus? 9-12 MPG?
-Is the operation and maintenance of these vehicles basically the same as a school bus? I read somewhere that I have to bleed the air and water tanks after every drive?
-How does the life of the engine compare? What mileage would you say is about 'mid life' for the heavier duty engines?

I know about the potential difference in gearing and speed. Any help you can provide is appreciated as always.
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Old 06-04-2020, 09:31 AM   #2
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Unfortunately much of what you're asking is unknown both from the perspective that the majority of knowledge and experience here is with school buses and also because there's a lot more product diversity in the transit bus market. What I can tell you is that a transit bus is not likely to have as robust of a body structure because school buses are designed to be rolling safety cages. You also mentioned you're aware of the potential that as a transit bus it may be heavily geared down and therefore unsuitable for sustained highway speeds.

The engine itself shouldn't be exotic but it's position and accessibility may be. Many city transit authorities look for quick turnaround and therefore won't look at in-frame rebuild potential, preferring instead a sub-frame system that lets them pull the entire powertrain and swap in a replacement in under 8 hours. If your bus is designed with this approach in mind it may be a serious challenge to access anything beyond the basic fluid checks.

Structurally school buses are made of steel but many other buses have made increasing use of aluminum for weight savings. Aluminum is not as easy to work with for a novice and you can't mix the two so if your bus is aluminum you'll need to fabricate aluminum or insulate steel and aluminum parts from touching. They simply don't mix and over time will deteriorate one another.

Bleeding air tanks is mostly to drain any excess moisture and nowadays many air systems use auto-bleeders that 'spit' periodically to keep the tanks dry. Otherwise, it's a quick step to just pop a valve and observe any moisture ejected with the air. Now with a transit bus you'll have air ride, kneeling feature, and probably doors all use the air system. I know of no reason these system would require complete air system bleed daily but again these are less common in school buses so any insights into the quirks of transits isn't likely to be found here.

As far as retitling for RV, inspection and the LED info sign, these are all subject to local laws of your states and not necessarily nationalized standards. If you can let us know your location, undoubtedly we have members from your state/province who can shed more light on those topics.
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Old 06-04-2020, 09:52 AM   #3
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Hopefully JoeBlack will chime in. He's done a transit conversion, he's in PA so he should know about the logistics of titling it as an RV there. He's taken his Dory bus all over the US and had quite an adventure.
https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f32/d...art-23902.html
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Old 06-04-2020, 11:09 AM   #4
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Good to know about engine construction and position.

I'm in NJ so it was already going to be a PITA to retitle, I was planning on going the Vermont route for a skoolie. Love their plate.

Does anyone know of a resource specifically for city bus conversions? Perhaps some kind of bus fanatic forum where I can ask questions?
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Old 06-04-2020, 02:59 PM   #5
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Good to know about engine construction and position.

I'm in NJ so it was already going to be a PITA to retitle, I was planning on going the Vermont route for a skoolie. Love their plate.

Does anyone know of a resource specifically for city bus conversions? Perhaps some kind of bus fanatic forum where I can ask questions?
What part of Jersey?
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Old 06-04-2020, 07:45 PM   #6
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The Gillig Phantom is a good bus, very well made. This platform was actually available as a school bus, competing with the Crown in CA, but those are very rare. It may not offer the rollover protection of a skoolie, (because there are more ribs on the school bus with more, narrower windows) but the chassis and everything else are much more durable and up a weight class from a BB/Thomas/IH/AA skoolie, like a Crown.


At 6'2" I was also attracted to the Phantom because of the interior height, although I haven't inspected one. I understand they are about 6'5" inside, but haven't verified that. There's about a foot of room underneath the floor, but most coaches don't have bays already because they are only 12-14" high. They were made in both 96" and 102" widths, which would give a wide body 35 footer another 15+ square feet of space inside. Enough for bathroom.



The buses in transit service generally have 6th gear locked out in the Allison TCM, and stop-go rear axles so they top out in the low 50s mph. They may also be speed governed. What you want is a "suburban" or road bus, identifiable by the all forward facing coach style seating, overhead racks/bins, center door delete on most of them, and maybe bays. These came with taller rear axles and all six speeds on the B400R, unless they are Voith 4 speeds. Avoid the Voith, because its something of a slushbox compared to the Allison, and in service they were generally swapped out whole for reman units as necessary. Almost no one in the US can repair one, or ever could, and they are getting scarce.


A bus from 2007 probably has 350-500k on it by now. The sweet spot for rebuilds seems to be around 375k for both motors and transmissions in daily service, so service history is critically important. You would either be at the end or the beginning of a service life, and rebuilds are an order of magnitude more expensive than on an Allison 643 or Cummins 5.9. The nice thing about those "suburban" spec coaches is they tend to have lower miles and have lived easier. There was one in LA near the airport for sale last year that looked fantastic.



In addition to the usual vehicular issues of rust, wear, belts, bags, bearings, etc, know that these buses are way more complex than any school bus, with multiple interconnected systems for doors, ride height, lighting, climate control etc. I know the Gillig LF has a multiplexed wiring harness running CAN, but I think the Phantom does not. Even if not, there are sensors and relays all over and you'll have to get all that managed for a conversion.


Mostly, if inspecting a Phantom I'd want to play with every little thing to make sure it works, hasn't been modified, etc. and how the systems affect each other. Download an operators manual if you can. Does the bus kneel, climate control work in all modes, annunciation, etc? I'd inspect as much wiring as I could expose for condition, previous hackery (commonly done for surveillance and navigation systems over the years) and rodent damage. Electrical is probably the biggest issue you'll have with a bus like this.


Finally, be confident that these coaches are hard to sell, and there is no shortage of them. A good one is worth double the scrap value, a bad one scrap value minus the cost to get it to the scrapper. Those fiberglass panels around the back of the bus AC system are apparently worth almost as much the the rest of the bus- but only to that special operator who needs them...


I wouldn't pay $7500 for one of these buses unless it came with documentation of recent engine AND transmission overhauls, had no rust or damage, and everything was nice and working. Similar or slightly more money for a perfect low mile suburban maybe, which shouldn't need rebuilt drive parts and is highway ready. That would put most of the buses out there in the $3k-5k range tops, unless you find a rare rust-free schoolie version with bays. More desirabale because its simpler (single mechanical door, bus windows, no AC, simpler interior, etc.) and perhaps stronger.


Soooo...


The short answer to your questions is that transits are very similar to school buses but 1/3 or more heavier and more than twice as complex, sort of halfway between a skoolie and a highway coach, but geared lower and toughened up for stoplight to stoplight life on potholed city streets. You'll be looking for transit or truck repair shops that focus on the heavier duty components these units have. Generally low ground clearance. Most available transits are worn out and put up for sale because they need major maintenance intervals reset. Probably twice the work to convert, too, but they have good headroom and huge flat roofs that can easily support 4 kW of solar, which is how I'm going.



Please let us know if you check out that Phantom just how much headroom it has.
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Old 06-04-2020, 08:03 PM   #7
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Oh, yeah, I almost forget. Two links you're going to love:


LuckyChow's Phantom conversion:


https://nomadicista.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3037


Lost Rangers fabulous Gillig LF conversion, sadly without photos:


https://nomadicista.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2541


Nomadicista went down for a long time, but is now back operating.
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Old 06-04-2020, 08:35 PM   #8
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Gilligan Phantom on Youtube.
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Old 06-04-2020, 09:04 PM   #9
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Thanks so much for the super valuable information Tom!

I don't think it's a suburban. No bays or bins, has a side door. None of the seats are reversed but there are some on the sides.

I think I will go check it out anyway just to see how it feels inside, but if the ceiling height really is 6' 5", that might not be worth the extra hassle. The idea of struggling with electrical problems makes me nervous.

Oh, and South Jersey, Cumberland County.
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Old 06-04-2020, 09:09 PM   #10
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Oh, and South Jersey, Cumberland County.
Cool, you are in range of the great Joseph Fazzio Inc. in Glassboro. Fantastic place to get steel of all types, paint, welding supplies, fasteners etc. etc.
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