As transit agencies continue to explore ways to grow ridership and take more people out of their cars, one key aspect to the experience is the comfort of the vehicle and the overall ride. Seating plays a huge role in not only that comfort, but also in the flow of the vehicle and the ability for passengers to load and unload quickly.
METRO Magazine spoke to seating manufacturers to discuss what is new in the marketplace and what trends transit agencies are seeing and trying to respond to.
Development, spotting trends
Seating manufacturers say that market knowledge is a key aspect to their success, but they are always looking for feedback and suggestions from properties whose needs differ from agency to agency and change year to year.
“There is just a wide range of options available, and we are seeing more customization. Transit managers are looking to attract discretionary ridership and are designing bus interiors that provide both increased comfort and functionality,” says Ray Melleady, managing director, North America, for USSC Group Inc. “In general, customers want more product options, better hip-to-knee room, lighter weight and improved maintainability.”
When developing products or exploring trends, American Seating’s Michelle Wolf, product manager, transportation, says the company will reach out to folks at several levels to get feedback before it is refined and completed.
“When we see trends coming, we will do research and ask transit authorities and bus builders for their thoughts, and once we get a concept, we will bring it back to those same people and make sure we are heading in the right direction,” she says. “Once we get a good concept, we will bring the solution to the market.”
Wolf adds that one trend emerging over the last year or so is a call for more maintenance-free seating.
“Transit agencies want seats to be as easy to clean and maintain as possible, because their budgets are so tight. Some places can’t even pay to do more than hose down the inside of the bus,” she says. “Sometimes that might mean vinyl or completely non-upholstered, if that is an option, on that seat. Anything you can do to take the nooks and crannies out helps too.”
Dan Cohen, VP, sales and marketing, at Freedman Seating/4ONE, says the industry has always wanted more and more fabrics over the years, with fabrics that are antimicrobial, antibacterial and moisture repellant recently surging. However, he agrees with Wolf that the latest trend in transit seating is for products that are non-upholstered.
“Our upholstered products are great, but there seems to be this shift toward customers wanting hard plastic seats, so our CitiPro and Gemini offerings have really been gaining acceptance. Both are available with no upholstery,” he says. “Several larger transit agencies, including AC Transit, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and New York City Transit, are already moving in that direction, so customers can walk into a bus and wipe the seats down with their own wet wipe or whatever.”[PAGEBREAK]
Both American Seating and 4ONE, a joint venture between Freedman Seating and USSC Group Inc., have each recently released seating models that flip up to create more space.
“There is a trend in the marketplace to further accommodate and make the vehicle accessible for the widest variety of people,” says Cohen. “One of the challenges for operations is what to do with such things as walkers, strollers and grocery carts, so they don’t have to keep them in the aisle or take up the wheelchair position.”
4ONE’s Split Flip is available on its two popular models — the stainless steel Aries and the Gemini, which is an all-injection molded plastic seat. The seating option, which is available in different configurations, simply allows the passenger to flip up the seat cushion when the seat is not in use, creating storage space.
“The Split Flip not only helps the passenger using a cart or stroller board to feel more comfortable, it also reduces boarding dwell time,” says Melleady. “When you’re talking about service in cities like Boston, Washington, D.C. or New York, a minute here or there, can cost the agency and its riders a lot of time and money.”
Meanwhile, American Seating’s individual flip-up seat model can be applied to both its Insight and Vision seats.
“Adding this option keeps the whole environment clean in the bus by keeping things out of the aisle and eliminating tripping hazards,” explains Wolf. “It also allows customers to keep their things close to them so they don’t have to worry about losing them or other passengers tampering with them.”
The flip-up seats made their debut on Calif.-based Long Beach Transit’s buses.
“The agency had a huge part in developing the flip-up, because they really had a need,” Wolf explains. “Some agencies were actually taking seats out of the buses so passengers could have a place to stow their strollers and carts, which meant there were two to four less seats on their buses.”
Wolf adds that the new option surged in popularity quickly both in the U.S. and Canada.
“Sometimes, we see trends that start on either the east or west coast, but it’s been surprising really how this need came up everywhere at the same time,” she says.[PAGEBREAK]
American Seating is also currently revising its rear-facing barrier options so it can offer the barriers with any of its mobility and securement products.
“There is a trend gaining popularity here in the U.S. for agencies to offer both rear- and forward-facing securement in the same bus,” says Wolf. “We are currently looking at other options we can add to improve the product.”
To address the accessibility concern for paratransit passengers, the company has also recently released an ADA-compliant, three-point mobility aid securement system, the Reliant.
The system is available with either barrier or flip-up options to maintain current seating capacities. A built-in ratcheting mechanism and Secura auto-locking retractors ensure that the entire system is securely tightened in half the time of other systems. Its features and benefits include less maintenance, with its modular components also allowing for easier maintenance, and a built-in time delay, allowing free movement of belts for preset time, maximizing ease of use and minimizing time spent on securement.
“It has one less belt than traditional systems, but it is easier to use while being safe and effective,” Wolf says. “The ratcheting ensures the whole system is tightened and you don’t have to tighten down each one of those knobs on every belt, so it saves time.”
The system is available with a five-year warranty and features vandal and corrosion resistance, and like all of American Seating’s products, is made in the U.S.
Meanwhile, 4ONE and Q’Straint teamed to design and manufacture the Q’POD — a fully-integrated wheelchair restraint system created for mass transit vehicles and low-floor buses.
“Q’Straint are the wheelchair restraint experts and we are the seating experts, so it’s the best of both worlds,” Cohen says. “Q’Straint was able to integrate what they make into a seating system so it fits in the bus, is cost effective and minimizes the installation time.”
The Q'POD features a three-point system to reduce potential tripping accidents, as well as an integrated shoulder belt and a bumper guard to help prevent wheelchair tip-overs. The electrical delay system and simplified design provide for quicker securement times, better positioning and reduced vehicle dwell time. Also, the Q'POD's flip seat is designed to accommodate larger-sized wheelchairs with a variety of seating and fabric customization options.
“The thing about the Q’POD is it is extremely easy to use, and if it is easy to use, people will use it and use it correctly, which will greatly minimize the potential for tip overs and improper securement,” says Cohen. “Since we introduced the Q’POD a few years ago, it has constantly evolved and improved and is now the standard offering in all of the new buses in Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.”
Traditionally, the Q’POD application has featured triple-flip seating with a barrier; however, 4ONE has released a new version made with a double-aisle facing seat and a double forward-facing flip seat.
The manufacturers we spoke to supply much more than traditional transit bus seating products.
For example, American Seating offers its Premier LS seat for the motorcoach industry, which has featured seat belts since 2009, making it already compliant with the recent Final Rule introduced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requiring lap and shoulder seat belts for each passenger and driver seat on new motorcoaches.
“The three-point seat belt is huge in the industry,” says Wolf. “We saw three-point belts as a trend, and Premier was developed to be the safest seat in the industry. Although we are always looking to improve our current products, we are ready to meet the demands of the new ruling right away.”
The Premier LS is the newest, enhanced version of the popular seat, featuring improved seat cushion comfort, a thinner back and kick panels, and reduced seat weight.
USSC also manufactures seating for public transportation bus and rail operators as well as for several other industries, including motorcoach.
Melleady says designing seats for operators provides unique challenges.
“Our seating is designed for a broad range of occupants, from a fifth percentile female at 5 feet tall and 133 lbs. to the 95th percentile male at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 315 lbs. The bus driver is the heart and soul of any transit operation. Providing them with a comfortable, well-designed seat should be in the interest of any spec writer,” he explains. “USSC seating is built to last. We build the seat to meet the life expectancy of the bus.”
USSC’s driver seats are built with a 650-lb. rating and a 500-lb. lift capacity: the heaviest in the industry. Seat suspensions are built to accommodate all operators and a unique duty cycle. USSC Operator seats also feature a D-Loop design seat belt.
“The unique design allows the operator to adjust their shoulder belt to accommodate various physical heights and personal comfort preferences. With this adjustability feature, the belt can comfortably come across their shoulder and down onto their lap, as opposed to across the neck, which will often cause the operator to not use the belt the way it is designed,” Melleady says.
For small and mid-sized buses, Freedman’s GO ES features a light weight and external three-point seat belts.
“If there were ever a maintenance issue, the seat belts are easily accessible,” explains Cohen. “The seat cushions also pop in and out, so users can change the upholstery on the seat cushions, if there is an accident or vandalism of any kind, very quickly.”
The company’s specialty division, Freedman Mobility Seating, is also set to introduce a new line of seats for the limousine and charter tour segment with a more plush, highline type of look and feel, dubbed the Eleganza, at the 2014 International LCT Show in February.