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Old 12-20-2020, 11:21 PM   #1
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Transit Conversion - Retail Space with ADA

Hi all -

I am in the infancy of planning a conversion that seems to be quite dissimilar to most found here - I am wanting to open a mobile retail store. The plan is to park and then open up for folks to shop on the bus.

Wanting the shopping experience to be all-inclusive, I'm weighing various options for including wheelchair access. I absolutely want to avoid needing one of the large lifts with separate doors that I see in school busses. I know that locally, the public transit system uses Gillig busses. The older ones that were used here had a fold-out platform lift (not a ramp). Ramp would be preferred, but either would work. I suspect that the newer busses that are currently in service have the ramps, but I have not confirmed.

My initial question for the collective is in regards to bus selection. I'm comfortable with the Gillig option, but wondered what else might be out there that's A) plentiful enough to find parts for B) old enough to be found second hand for relatively cheap, and C) has a non-cumbersome wheelchair accessibility option.

I'm open to alternate ideas as well, but I do know that I want a bus (as opposed to a trailer as some of my friends have suggested) and that reliability is of the utmost importance, with fuel economy not too far behind. I'm least concerned with power as I'm anticipating that at least 80% of the time I will be within 80 miles from home.

I appreciate any input y'all might have.
- Chris

PS: As I'm sure many of you are aware, the Gillig's were available with a few different engine/trans options. After speaking with a diesel mechanic buddy of mine, I've been steered towards Allison transmissions and Cummins engines (at least on the rigs that are old enough I'm likely to find them in a local auction). If I were to go with the Gillig, I would go with my buddy's recommendation unless someone has some info I may not have considered.
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Old 12-20-2020, 11:38 PM   #2
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I would suggest you get a low-floor bus, like used for airport shuttles. There are a few different kinds. The FWD ones would seem best for a store.
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Old 12-21-2020, 09:22 AM   #3
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Hi Chris,


I'll chime in, since we have 2 Gillig Phantoms headed towards becoming accessible RVs. The integrated and unobtrusive lifts are really nice...if you didn't know it was a lift built into the steps, you might miss it.


The Gillig Low Floor is a nice bus, but it's got different levels and your handicapped customers might not be able to access the rear "upper deck" level. If that's important to you, then a Low Floor might not be the right option for you.


Once inside a Phantom, the floor is all the same level (with the exception of the wheel wheels).


Gillig makes a great product - we have 3 of them! But the Phantoms are getting a bit harder to find lately. If you can find one in good shape, though, it might be a great choice for your store plans.


Don't discount the Detroit Series 50 for what you plan to do. It's a solid engine based on the Series 60 block, but with 2 fewer cylinders. We do have a Freightliner with the 8.3L Cummins and it's a great engine, with more power than our Series 50 Gillgs...but the Series 50 has enough power to cruise between 65-70 with an Allison tranny in 5th gear...so that might be just fine for what you're doing and opens up options.
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Old 12-21-2020, 11:06 PM   #4
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The Gillig Low Floor is a nice bus, but it's got different levels and your handicapped customers might not be able to access the rear "upper deck" level. If that's important to you, then a Low Floor might not be the right option for you.

Once inside a Phantom, the floor is all the same level (with the exception of the wheel wheels).

Don't discount the Detroit Series 50 for what you plan to do. It's a solid engine based on the Series 60 block, but with 2 fewer cylinders. We do have a Freightliner with the 8.3L Cummins and it's a great engine, with more power than our Series 50 Gillgs...but the Series 50 has enough power to cruise between 65-70 with an Allison tranny in 5th gear...so that might be just fine for what you're doing and opens up options.
Thanks for the reply!

A friend of mine recently won a late 90's/early 00's Low Floor at a local auction and I was able to see the interior after it'd been stripped. The second level on his is only one step up, but his also comes with a lift, not a ramp. The versions I'm seeing with a ramp look to have 2-3 steps up to the upper level. Neither situation is 100% ideal, which is why I enjoy hearing from folks such as yourself.

My biggest concern with the lift vs the ramp is how the lift is actuated. I'm of the understanding that the lifts are hydraulically powered and would therefore require the main engine to be running in order to be operated. It is my intent to arrive on-scene, kneel the bus and then power it down. I'll have small generator(s)/shore power to run the electronics and a/c & heat. The large engine wouldn't be fired back up until it was time to drive away. This would make the ramp ideal, assuming the weather was such that I could just leave the door open the whole time - just pull up, deploy the ramp and shut down. everyone can use the ramp, so no need to fool around with things at the front door once i'm set up.

On the other hand, the second level on the interior presents it's own set of issues as you've pointed out, so I'm not sure.

I have considered the low floor and just using the raised area in the back of the bus as an extra stockroom/sleeping quarters. converting a bus and then immediately rendering 1/3 of the interior as unusable for retail space is far from ideal also. not really a win-win situation to be found (yet).

Are you aware of a single-level phantom that also had a ramp instead of a lift? In my looking, I didn't see one (though, admittedly, I didn't exactly scour the entire interwebs).

As far as the Detroit goes, I know they make sufficient power and whatnot, but I'm not sold on a 2-stroke diesel and, in the event of a breakdown while on the road, have been advised that mechanical help is a little harder to find (at least in comparison to help for the 8.3 cummins). for that reason alone I was going to shy away from them.

Again, thanks for the input. There's always more to consider and it's nice to have outside opinions.

- Chris
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Old 12-21-2020, 11:15 PM   #5
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It sounds like you've got a good plan! Yes, the Phantoms all have lifts...so, if you can use the rear area for stock or somehow accommodate access in a low floor, then the ramp sounds like a better fit. Ignore my Phantom comments!


We do have two 2-stroke Detroits in older buses, but the Series 50 is a modern computer-controlled turbocharged 4-stroke. Don't take this as steering you away from the Cummins 8.3...like I said, we have one in our Freighlinter FL60...it's been strong and reliable. But I do want to open up your options and let you know our 2 Phantoms with Series 50 Detroits are great buses, too. Keep in mind that not all Detroits are 2-stroke...just the older ones, like the 6-71, the 6V-92, the 8V-92 and the like.


BTW, where are you located?
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Old 12-21-2020, 11:37 PM   #6
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sorry, my response was incomplete in regards to the Detroits. My mind immediately wanders to the 2-stroke realm, but I went back and re-read my buddy's response to the various engine options to see what'd triggered my wanting to stay away from them.

The 40 series is a rebranded International engine - wet sleeve and durable, but not as powerful as I might want. Of the Detroit offerings, this is likely to be about the only one I'd consider.

The 50/60 series requires external balance shafts to keep things in order (located in the oil pan, in this case). I'll spare you the long boring story, but I used to work in automotive/diesel machine shop and I'm super paranoid about motors that require balance shafts. They work well for many people. They like to come apart on me. I appreciate the info about yours working well for you - I don't mean to snub it. I just can't bring myself to go down that route.

I am located in WA state. I realized I'd forgotten to add a location to my profile when I set it up here. Fixed it now.

- Chris

EDIT:

Can you confirm that the lifts are hydraulic? I had assumed as much, but perhaps there's a chance they're pneumatic, so I thought it prudent to ask.
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Old 12-22-2020, 07:48 AM   #7
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I am located in WA state. I realized I'd forgotten to add a location to my profile when I set it up here. Fixed it now.

- Chris

EDIT:

Can you confirm that the lifts are hydraulic? I had assumed as much, but perhaps there's a chance they're pneumatic, so I thought it prudent to ask.

Hi Chris - first, no snubbing felt! Everyone's got to be comfortable with the drivetrain in their own rig. Heck, we even have an old Gillig with a Cat 3208, which has been a great engine for us...but some here hate it with a passion usually saved for things like eggplant or tofu. To each their own...


I'll be driving a Phantom back from NW Washington to Arizona later this month. If you're along my route, I'm happy to let you poke around it.


The Phantom lift is hydraulic, but run off an electric hydraulic pump inside a bay on the passenger side. So it doesn't run off the engine. It even has a back-up hand pump, so one could retract the lift if the electrics failed...I guess...we've never actually tested that. In fact, I've not run the lift without the engine running so I'll give that a try later today to see if there's an interlock or anything. Let me do that and report back, along with a few photos.


Again...having said all that...I'm not pushing a Phantom, except that the floor is all one level (besides the wheel wells). Low Floors are more common and I see lots of those for sale right now. And that ramp system is nice and would be really inviting for your customers, including parents with strollers.
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Old 12-22-2020, 08:19 AM   #8
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We used a low floor kneeling bus to enable my Mother to travel with us ( she had to since he was living with us)
For the quick in and outs the kneeling busses with ramp are much better then lift busses. It worked out very well for us



I think if you want to be inviting for ADA people the ramp would be way better.


With small modification the doors can close while the ramp is out.


The ramp we have in Dory is hydraulic and folds out.



Good luck


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Old 12-22-2020, 10:26 AM   #9
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You've got a real project on your hands once you find a bus!
Having the aisle space and turnaround space for a wheelchair user will eat into your storage/display space in a significant way.

Not sure why you want to try and make the bus ADA compliant, but doing that and having a mobile retail shop don't really compute unless you have "deep pockets" and a code book handy.

Good luck, and post pics of this bus if/when you go forward with your idea...
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Old 12-22-2020, 10:47 AM   #10
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We used a low floor kneeling bus to enable my Mother to travel with us ( she had to since he was living with us)
For the quick in and outs the kneeling busses with ramp are much better then lift busses. It worked out very well for us
Johan -

Thank you for the pictures and comments! I am glad to see that your mother was able to travel with you! Your comments about the ramp further cement in my mind that the ramp option is the only way I would want to go!

- Chris
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Old 12-22-2020, 10:55 AM   #11
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Yes, it would be hard...but for many old age homes where there is not much activity I could see that having a bus store / shop come to their home could be quit a nice outing.

In the netherlands it used to be common that a mobile grocery store would travel thru the streets.
Similar to the ice cream truck we still see once in a while.
Sometimes they were electric traction.

If you wanted something special you would tell the proprietor and they would bring it next day..

Not sure what happened but the " improvement" of both people working must have had an impact.

I think a bus is a great plan.

Good luck,
Johan
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Old 12-22-2020, 10:55 AM   #12
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For access, I do agree with Johan and the ramp option...which makes access easy and inviting for everyone. As long as you can deal with the multi-level floor of a low-floor, then it sounds like that's your best bet here.
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Old 12-22-2020, 11:00 AM   #13
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You've got a real project on your hands once you find a bus!
Having the aisle space and turnaround space for a wheelchair user will eat into your storage/display space in a significant way.

Not sure why you want to try and make the bus ADA compliant, but doing that and having a mobile retail shop don't really compute unless you have "deep pockets" and a code book handy.

Good luck, and post pics of this bus if/when you go forward with your idea...
Really, honestly, I am more looking to make it not impossible for someone in a wheelchair to enter and participate, NOT looking to make the bus 100% ADA compliant. The goal is to have a music shop (records, tapes, cd's, etc). I feel like music is pretty universally enjoyed and I don't believe the shopping experience should be any different. For now I am just trying to nail down which bus gives me the best chance at success. If it's all a bust, I'll skip the interior wheelchair shopping idea and figure something else out.

I did give it a little thought though: the interior of the bus is 8' wide. The plan is to have two foot of counterspace tucked up against the windows on each side, leaving a 4' wide aisle in the middle. I may have to sacrifice a section of shelving to allow space to turn around, but I can have other items in that space instead of a record shelf (posters or something). Or maybe larger shelves, but only on one side of the bus and have small racks for other items on the other side. not sure yet.
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Old 12-22-2020, 12:42 PM   #14
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A long transit bus typically has two entries so you don't need turnaround space if you make it a 'one-way' aisle, you enter one and exit at the other. The fwd buses are all flat behind the driver area. and heck, you really could just build your own vehicle out of a fwd bus, like the old gm motorhomes (there was one free last week here in sac, gone in 1 day..)
or where I got my car smogged across from my shop he had a Rialta RV which is a fwd motorhome that has a low floor (bit short for your app)
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Old 12-22-2020, 12:52 PM   #15
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I'll be driving a Phantom back from NW Washington to Arizona later this month. If you're along my route, I'm happy to let you poke around it.
If it's coming from Seattle area (Metro Transit or Sound Transit), there is a good chance I've ridden on it as a passenger in the past. Lots of nice buses to be had up here once they are retired.

I'd love to get my hands on one of the MCI coaches from Sound Transit once they give up on it, but not ready for something that large yet.

I'm not sure what the bus system is like out in Eastern WA where the OP is located, but it's a great way to get inspiration as to what types of bus you may want. Ride around town a bit on various types of buses, and take notes and pictures even. I've been on a few that have made me think... Personally, for an RV, I'd want the low-floor with the raised section at the back (for a bed), but for a travelling record store, not so much.

Hey, once this beast is in action, let me know if you do come out to western WA, I can always use more LPs
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Old 12-22-2020, 01:08 PM   #16
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A long transit bus typically has two entries so you don't need turnaround space if you make it a 'one-way' aisle
The second entrance is rarely (that I've seen, anyway) wheelchair friendly. Are you aware of some that have ramps at both entrances? because that would be awesome!
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Old 12-22-2020, 01:16 PM   #17
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I'm not sure what the bus system is like out in Eastern WA where the OP is located, but it's a great way to get inspiration as to what types of bus you may want. Ride around town a bit on various types of buses, and take notes and pictures even. I've been on a few that have made me think... Personally, for an RV, I'd want the low-floor with the raised section at the back (for a bed), but for a travelling record store, not so much.

Hey, once this beast is in action, let me know if you do come out to western WA, I can always use more LPs
Unfortunately, the bus system out here is pretty limited. Gilligs in a couple flavors is about all we have. The one that my buddy purchased that I was able to look through was about it. If I travel out of area (SEATAC just offloaded some bendy busses, for instance), options increase quite a bit! considering that travelling to purchase the bus would be necessary, I'd want as much knowledge on the rig as possible before even considering it. Hence my post here

I do agree that the raised section at the back is a bit hampering. That's why I was inquiring here - maybe there's another manufacturer that offers a ramp, one level flooring AND a solid engine/trans option (hey, a guy can dream!). I don't feel like the elevated area is an insurmountable problem though. I don't want to block off that much space for sleeping quarters I don't intend to sleep in regularly, but I'm creative and flexible. I'm sure I can figure something out if the multi-level bus is truly my absolute best option.

And yes, once it's up and running, the plan is to hit music festivals and all sorts of other large events in the PNW. Maybe even drag a flatbed trailer around with a sound system for live music. who knows... just dreaming at this point.
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Old 12-22-2020, 01:20 PM   #18
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Old 12-22-2020, 07:37 PM   #19
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Old 12-22-2020, 09:32 PM   #20
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Biggest problem for me on the first one... it runs on CNG, and that seriously limits fuel availability. I would, however like to know where to score one of those bike racks, but not sure it would even work well on my wee van-based bus.

I did see the 60-foot articulated Sound Transit buses for sale about a month ago. Having ridding on those, I think they would make for an awesome skoolie... but I'm not really up for driving a 60' rig at this point, not to mention that that is a LOT of conversion to do

I don't think any of the Gillig or New Flyer buses I've ridden in the Seattle area have a rear ramp/lift, only front. The MCI coaches have a full lift on the right side, about 1/3 the way back (had to give up my seat many a time on those so they could move seats forward to use the lift).
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