Moving special-needs passengers is part of every transit system’s mission, and innovations in wheelchair lift, ramp and tiedown technologies are making it easier than ever to fulfill the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandate to provide access to transportation to everyone.
In the years since ADA became law, convenience and safety have significantly improved, with vendors responding to their customers‘ needs. Now low-floor buses have introduced new challenges to the mobility industry, and brought about a new generation of products.
Industry ramps up
According to Donald Newland, marketing manager for Ricon Corp., you can’t underestimate the impact of low-floor buses. “The biggest trend in the transit market today is the transition from high- to low-floor bus applications,” he says.
Low-floor buses mean a move away from lifts as well as increasingly sophisticated ramps. Ramp technology is at the forefront of the lift industry, with single- and double-fold models available, and applications that go from wheelchair-bound customers to mothers with strollers. Ricon produces a variety of ramps, including the BiFOLD, a double-fold underfloor ramp that is designed to exceed most regulatory length requirements while also providing safe, reliable access to low-floor vehicles from either front or rear entrances.
Lifts still fill niche
The low-floor revolution hasn’t made wheelchair lifts obsolete, however. Because different designs best suit different applications, and because rolling stock has a long lifespan, there are still plenty of high-floor buses on the road. Getting wheelchair-bound passengers into these vehicles requires a lift, and lift manufacturers have been pursuing strategies to streamline and make their products easier to use and more reliable.
Among the next generation of newly slimmed and strengthened ADA-compliant products are underfloor lifts, which are manufactured for both stepwell and dedicated doors. The advantage of those varieties is the unobstructed access to the vehicle they offer when not in use. Newland cites Ricon Corp.’s Mirageª lift as an example of underfloor technology. A steel and aluminum model, it stores under the vehicle in a housing designed to protect it from the elements. It’s a hydraulic device, running off either a 12- or 14-volt power source, with manual backup.
For Perry DeGroot, national sales manager for Braun Corp., the move toward underfloor lifts is significant, “The biggest trend that I see is the desire to use one door for both ambulatory and wheelchair passengers,” he says. “That is why our stepwell [under vehicle lifts] are so popular.”
That popularity hasn’t cornered the market however. There is also an array of more traditional platform lifts to be had. DeGroot sees wide application of Braun’s Millennium, Vista and Century Series models, all of which offer updated platform technology to the transit industry.
Whichever product you choose depends on the particular needs of your property. Several factors need to be considered: floor plans, seating capacity and whether or not you plan on using the stepwell or a dedicated door.
Once the type of lift has been chosen, choosing a vendor includes a whole new set of criteria. Says Ricon’s Newland, “Reliability and service — the long-term cost of any accessibility product needs to be measured far beyond its purchase price. Educating transit property personnel on the proper use, service and installation is an investment in your ‘uptime’ future.”
Securing your commitment
Once you’ve selected a lift or ramp system to bring your special-needs passengers aboard, securement systems need to be chosen with just as much care. The belt tiedowns that were commonplace not long ago are gradually being replaced with more sophisticated products that provide an enhanced level of security to riders while making it simpler for drivers to use them properly.
Sylvain Girardin at Q’Straint sees the decision as a multi-point process to find a system that meshes with the needs of your vehicles, drivers and passengers. Look at the vendor’s record for quality, and their price point, and then consider whether or not the product is tested, easy and quick to use, adaptable to your fleet, and packaged with an effective training program.
Notes Girardin, “Even though ADA does not require crash testing, a safe, tested system is important in that if not done, a property opens itself up to possibly using a system that lacks the strength and integrity to perform properly under duress.”
Girardin adds that not only will securements that are rapidly and easily employed make them more likely to be used, they have been known to reduce workers’ compensation claims by making special-needs transportation less stressful for drivers. What’s more, choosing a product that can be applied to your entire fleet facilitates the process even further.
Universality is an often overlooked feature but a critical aspect of wheelchair securement, says Girardin. “Universal/interchangeable securement allows a property the potential to have all their fleet, not just new bus purchases, identical in wheelchair securement without any labor costs. Of course, this then simplifies the training required to the drivers since they are all using the same system every day and not dealing with multiple types of restraints depending on the bus they are driving that day.”
Robert Joseph, president of Sure-Lok Inc., reiterates the importance of all these details, being mindful that passenger safety should be the foremost concern for a property investing in a securement system. With any product, proper training is essential.
Says Joseph, “Sure-Lok supports our customers by offering a wide range of instructional materials, including the ‘Safe and Secure with Sure-Lok’ video training program. This is a valuable resource for newly hired transportation professionals and as a refresher training program. This program is available on-site as a hands-on training, with certification, upon request.”
So what products fulfill all of these abstract goals for a securement system? An automatic, self-tensioning retractable securement is a major step forward from the manual tiedown days, says Q’Straint’s Girardin. Retractable systems, while already far more sophisticated than traditional products, are only becoming better, too, with simpler anchors and improved safety profiles. He notes that “Q’Straint’s Slide ‘n Click floor anchorage, which has 360 degrees of swivel and one-handed operation, meets SAE J2249 and ISO 10542 requirements. The system makes securement simple, and can be used in floorplans that would seem inhospitable to older systems.
What all these products have in common is a commitment to providing safe, reliable access to transit for passengers with special needs. Carefully evaluating the needs of its fleet and its passengers, a transit property can invest in ADA-compliant products that are less bulky, less frustrating for drivers and technicians, and more valuable to the people they matter to most — passengers with special needs.