Regular transit passengers rarely take the time to notice things below them, let alone the vehicle’s floor. But the fact is there’s much more to flooring than meets the eye, or rather the feet. The right floor doesn’t just support weight; it’s also an aesthetic component that can provide safety, cost effectiveness and durability throughout your vehicle’s lifespan.
“Flooring is an important aesthetic element in a transit vehicle,” says Jack Woodyard, business manager of the transit products division for RJF International Corp. in Fairlawn, Ohio, the parent company of floormaker Koroseal. “It also performs several important mechanical functions it protects the sub-floor from the elements, provides a slip-resistant walking surface and helps to simplify cleaning of the vehicle.”
Here are some factors to consider when sifting through the variety of manufacturers and materials available on the transit flooring market.
Choosing a material
Flooring is a component of a system in which rubber, vinyl, polymer and carpet may all be important for system performance, safety and efficiency, Woodyard says. The difference lies in how one material wears versus another, he says. For example, polymer is generally superior to rubber in resisting weathering and abrasion.
But Gordy Schultz, vice president of transit sales for RCA Rubber in Akron, Ohio, says rubber has its own set of advantages over other materials, particularly in the fact that it lacks seam openings that can be vulnerable to water and temperature fluctuations. “Transit vehicles are exposed to daily temperature changes between when they’re in service and when they’re parked in a garage,” he says. “Rubber flooring has much greater dimensional stability to guard against these fluctuations.”
Buyers should also take into account that flooring materials differ in quality of compound, thickness, maintenance of surface type and slip resistance as well as cost, says Douglas Campbell, program manager for Rubber Solutions North America (RSNA) in Springdale, Ark.
Since most floor types are closely priced, buyers should look into a product’s total package instead of just its cost.
For example, in the past transit agencies often had maintenance people make flooring decisions based on a product’s durability and maintainability. “Now it’s common for decisions to be made by committees that are more swayed by style and design, which creates problems because the ramifications of choosing the right material are ignored,” says Schultz.
“Aesthetics is another important consideration in the choice of bus and coach flooring,” says Kevin Magalas, director of marketing and sales for Gerflor Transport Flooring in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “This has become part of a campaign to increase ridership in the coach transportation industry.”
Campbell of RSNA agrees on the importance of a visually attractive floor. “Floor product advancements appear to be in the areas of safety, aesthetics and cost reductions,” he says. “The best material is one that meets the majority of a client’s needs so long as the client does his homework and puts a higher priority on safety.”
Regarding aesthetics, Altro Transflor gives buyers a unique opportunity with its Paint Box, which provides a cost-effective way to choose surface and texture variety, says Dan Lee, Altro’s transit division manager in Long Beach, Calif.
Safety comes first
Even if flooring is the least-noticed item on the bus, there’s no question about its most significant function — safety. “Safety, durability and ease of maintenance are the most important factors in floor covering decisions,” says Schultz.
Fire resistance is a key concern. Milwaukee Composites Inc. has taken a step forward in this area by ensuring its phenolic composite flooring can withstand 30-minute fire tests. Of course, this is only one side of the issue.
“There are some vinyl products in the market that are very reluctant to catch fire,” says Campbell. “But the problem is if an intense fire were to break out, these products could be toxic because of their inherent chlorine compounds.”
Slip-and-fall events are the biggest concern when it comes to safety. Federal standards have been developed for the friction coefficient of flooring so that manufacturers can document levels of slip resistance. But the market is constantly changing, and new slip-resistant technologies are increasingly being made available. Weight, texture and chemical makeup are just a few of the factors that can determine slip resistance.
Be sure to keep product quality, aesthetics and durability in mind while considering the floor’s safety potential, Campbell warns. For example, standard rubber floors do a great job of achieving the necessary goals, despite the fact that they may not be as aesthetically pleasing as other designs. Although the newer designs could help brighten up the bus, you often risk higher maintenance costs, safety and longevity because other materials like vinyl have inherent shrinking properties, he says.
“Abrasion resistance, slip resistance and ease of cleaning are characteristics transit operators look for,” Koroseal’s Woodyard says. “Flooring and step treads, in addition to performing their function, must continue to look good even when subjected to the rigors of transit use. Resistance to abrasion is important because it affects whether the flooring system will maintain its appearance throughout the life of the vehicle.”
The assumption most motorcoach operators have is that the best manufacturers will produce long-lasting results, preferably for the duration of the vehicles’ lifespan. And for a product to last, it needs to be able to withstand transit conditions.
But don’t expect to get long-lasting products for cheap. “Most agencies are working with smaller workforces, fewer dollars to spend and are requiring more for their money,” Altro Transflor’s Lee says. “Expectations are moving toward products that eliminate problems and exposure.”
Ease of maintenance and care
Ease of maintenance is also a critical part of selecting a flooring system. “Some of the latest products on the market provide problems for maintenance people because regardless of what benefits they offer, you just can’t keep them clean,” says Schultz. Practical flooring maintenance shouldn’t require expensive cleaning methods.
“As a result of budget constraints, transit system operators are expected to find ways to not only extend service life but reduce maintenance costs,” Woodyard says.
Manufacturers admit that it’s difficult to find a floor that’s slip resistant, long lasting and easy to clean. “With safety flooring, the key focus is providing a slip-resistant product to a level that will still allow the product to be maintained with ease,” Lee says.
“Beautiful floor patterns are available, but if they are difficult to keep clean, the appearance disappears and maintenance costs rise,” Campbell says.