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Indiana company planning wheelchair-ramp bus

MIDDLEBURY, Ind. – A northern Indiana company is looking to attract a big boost in business by building a new passenger bus that features a ramp for wheelchairs and those unable to climb steps.

Arboc Specialty Vehicles’ new Spirit of Liberty bus will have seating for 37 passengers and space for six wheelchairs.

The company is promoting the bus to public transportation agencies nationwide as safer than buses that use wheelchair lifts and for passengers who use walkers, the South Bend Tribune reported Tuesday ( ).

A top attribute of the vehicle is “a true flat floor from entrance to the back of the bus,” said Don Roberts, president and chief executive officer for Arboc.

The company based in Middlebury now has about 100 employees making two smaller bus models. Roberts said he expected to add about 30 jobs in the next year as production starts on the new bus.

Roberts foresees the company building as many as 600 to 700 buses annually – up from the 33 it built in 2009, its first year of operation.

The new bus line is on display this week at the American Public Transportation Association show in Indianapolis. Its existing smaller buses – also aimed at serving those with mobility problems – are now used in places such as Houston, Dallas, Kalamazoo, Mich., and British Columbia, Canada.

Arboc also is expanding production through a partnership with Freightliner Custom Chassis of Gaffney, S.C., which is building the bus chassis. Roberts said Arboc takes the Freightliner chassis after it arrives at the Indiana factory and adds the bus body and features.

Arboc decided to work with Freightliner to develop the chassis because of the company’s expertise.

“They have service centers, they have parts, they have warranties. They have everything set up,” Roberts said. “That actually told us we were better off partnering with them to build them than we were to build them ourselves.”