When bus operators head out on their routes, they are unaware what challenges they may face. As we have read in the headlines, operators have been subjected to verbal abuse, spitting, a thrown soda or, in some cases, even physical violence. Some transit agencies are looking into driver partitions as a way of providing better protection for operators.
Philadelphia-based design and fabrication firm Bentech Inc. has been at the forefront of developing driver partitions. "We've actually worked on driver compartments and assemblies for 15 years," says Robert Benninghoff, Bentech manager of sales & engineering. In 1995, Bentech supplied Siemens with several components for the St. Louis Metro light rail vehicles, including the hinges and the vertical support stanchion for the doors.
"It was kind of an R&D process that gave us a working knowledge of the hinge system that would support glass and panels," Benninghoff says.
The company also worked with San Francisco Muni on its Neoplan buses for driver's door compartments in 1999. "It's a product arena that's gone from hot to cold over the years," Benninghoff says.
Testing Two Designs
The company worked with New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) on a pilot program that tested two prototypes of driver partition designs for two different buses. "About a year ago, we were invited by [the transit agency] to develop a working driver's compartment system for two different buses," Benninghoff says.
One model that was developed — the hinged-door design — was created for NJ Transit's North American Bus Industries' (NABI) low-floor bus, meets ADA requirements and can be furnished with locking latches. The second model is a sliding-door design, which they developed to equip the agency's Neoplan bus. A large transfer cutter situated close to the driver was accommodated by the sliding design. According to Mike Sosnowsky, Bentech sales engineer, this version can be stowed in an open position as an option. Both designs feature upper and lower portions that can be used for advertising, he says.
The partitions are made with laminated tempered safety glass, which complies with the FMVSS AS2 requirements for impact and scratch resistance. With Bentech's design, the glass doors are rimmed with aluminum extrusions (TH12 Series) designed by the company to conform to the shape of the door. All of the edges are covered, creating a rigid and robust design, he adds. The cost of the drivers' doors will be in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, depending upon the transit authority's final design requirements and the quantity ordered, Benninghoff says.
The MS Series of Driver's Partitions comply with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's regulation (Z26.1-1996) for driver visibility, via the use of safety glass. The partitions, which are easily installed in the field, can accommodate existing partitions and fare collection systems. "We could retrofit existing product work with the OEM in the development stages to develop a door system," Sosnowsky says.
Materials, Costs, Benefits
Sosnowsky says the benefits of the driver partition products include providing a deterrent for abusive passengers, preventing objects from being thrown at drivers and providing noise reduction to allow the driver to focus on the road. Other benefits from a cost analysis point of view include reduced personal injury claims, reduced traffic accidents and a decrease in insurance premiums, he adds.
Bentech will provide complete engineered design with installation assistance, says Sosnowsky. "I can share solid files with the customer, so that's a complete service. We are offering engineered design, install and support thereafter," he says. The company will design a system that will work with the current configuration of the bus.
Bentech has received orders for five Drivers' Door assemblies for NJ Transit's NABI buses and one prototype door for MTA New York City Transit.
When asked what prompted NJ Transit to look into driver partitions, spokesperson Dan Stessel says, "Like many transit agencies, we are concerned about the safety of our bus operators."
The transit agency specified that the driver partition must cover and protect the operator, with minimal blind spots, and be shatter resistant.
NJ Transit will begin testing the driver partitions on five buses and run these buses for 90 days before determining its next step, Stessel says.