Economical advancements are an essential part of the next generation of transportation seating products. A longer lifespan, bus layout flexibility, lightweight solutions and safety are just a few of the features manufacturers are prioritizing in response to the greater need for long-term sustainability.
Lifecycle cost considerations
With limited budgets and growing industry environmental consciousness, transit agencies place a large importance on seat durability. The goal is to save resources by replacing seats as infrequently as possible, and more companies on the market are finding ways to preserve lifespan.
Vandalism is a major industry concern and the single biggest cause of repair, according to Kimberly Miko, marketing coordinator for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based American Seating. To combat this, the company’s newest seats are upholstered with special patented cushions and fabrics modified to absorb cuts, slashes and other abuse.
Kiel, a German seating company that recently opened its North American offices in Elkhart, Ind., gives customers the option of high-gloss vandal-resistant surfaces (Ideo and Centra) or stainless steel (Intra).
Similarly, Exton, Pa.-based 4ONE LLC released its upgraded Gemini seat featuring T2C inserts, which are padded tough-to-cut vandal-resistant inserts, for chair cushions.
“Transit agencies that I’ve talked to are looking to reduce operating expenses by investing in properly engineered and supported products,” says Raymond Melleady, VP, sales, at 4ONE. “Think of vandal-proof seats, or things that will reduce inventory levels over the life of the vehicle. Another big one would be interchangeability.”
Chicago-based Freedman Seating Co.’s Go Seat comes equipped with “Lock N Go” removable cushions, exemplifying interchangeability as a way to cut down seat replacement.
“Safety is our number one concern, but our second goal is durability,” says Dan Cohen, VP, sales and marketing, for Freedman. “We want to produce a product that’s going to last the life of the bus. The standard bus is designed to last between seven and 12 years — so are our seats.”
While lightweight products can improve fuel economy, some customers have noticed it occasionally comes at the cost of durability. But, companies are now trying to produce seats that marry the two features.
4ONE’s new Gemini, for example, is a lighter-weight ergonomic seat that’s also high in strength because of its calculated design.
“The latest trend in the transit market is definitely providing options that maximize fuel efficiency without compromising the longevity of a seat’s lifecycle,” says Melleady.[PAGEBREAK]
A flexible space
Flexible seats or seating arrangements allow a transit agency to increase space in a necessary situation.
American Seating’s newest product on the market is an individual flip-up seat model that can be applied to both the Insight and Vision seats. It offers a more flexible build to accommodate the increase in carts and strollers that transit authorities are seeing brought onto buses, according to Miko.
“Our company goals, when it comes to designing transit seating, are to stay on top of the trends and to provide customers with products that help solve needs as they come up in the industry,” she says.
With more adaptive and customizable layouts, manufacturers are able to give customers the flexibility they need to suit their particular ridership.
Freedman’s modular Go Seat, which was introduced a year ago and is currently in full production, allows the customer to build up or down depending on their needs. Components such as grab rails, head rests, different types of arm rests and cushions can be added at their discretion.
“Although it’s mainly for medium-duty buses, it can also be fitted for a variety of vehicle types,” says Cohen.
Freedman also works with individual transit agencies to develop sewing patterns and seat designs for customers who want an exclusive look.
“We also tailor to individual companies a lot of the time,” says Melleady. “The industry dictates what we continually modify and change in our products. Some customers want more seating room, while others want more standing room. Greater hip and knee room is another one, as are bike racks and stroller parking.”
Perhaps these new needs stem from a recent influx in discretionary riders, adds Melleady, who has also noticed a strong trend among transit agencies to accommodate and appease this ridership group.
“Attracting a new ridership group that we haven’t historically seen comes with the challenge of balancing comfort and passenger amenities without sacrificing the capacity in that vehicle,” he says. “The traditional school bus style benches won’t do anymore.”[PAGEBREAK]
Anti-microbial on the rise
Reducing the spread of germs to improve the overall sanitation of a publicly used vehicle is a large concern that has taken priority recently and will only continue to escalate.
The reason for this trend seems to stem from recent outbreaks of bedbugs, staph infections and other diseases of that nature that can be transferred from surfaces, according to Miko. “This may include a trend toward vinyl or no fabric at all on bus seats,” she says.
But for now, anti-microbial fabrics, and recently, anti-microbial handrails seem to be the solution as manufacturers are reporting increased demand for these products from agencies.
“We’re seeing a lot of people wanting anti-microbial, anti-bacterial characteristics in the seat cover, whether it is vinyl or cloth,” says Cohen. “Additionally, on some of our products now — the Go Seat included — we’re offering sanitized grab handles, which are molded with a special lab-verified material so it won’t harbor or perpetuate the growth of microbes or bacteria. This trend has grown within the past year.”
These Freedman seating products have a label on them so the rider is aware. 4ONE’s Gemini also offers anti-microbial handrails that aren’t found in a traditional transit seat.
Seatbelts in smaller vehicles
In the small to mid-size bus market, seat belts are becoming standard features. As these vehicles travel at higher speeds, and sometimes on highways, there’s a greater need for this type of passenger protection.
Freedman Seating is now offering a new three-point seat, called the 3-PTA, with adjustable shoulder belts that allow the passenger to alter the height for increased comfort.
“Paratransit buses, demand-response transit buses or cutaway buses for smaller communities, that are doing things like picking up people in wheelchairs, are good examples of buses that need three-point seat belts,” says Cohen.
Cohen also suggests making sure any seat belt products purchased have been tested by an accredited source, so there is no gray area of compliance.
Amaya-Astron, a Mexico-based motorcoach manufacturer, offers two popular seats with seat belts: the newer Tourino-G and the best-selling
A-2Ten, which is named after the federal motor vehicle safety standard for seat belts, FMVSS210.
The chairs are visually appeasing and also come equipped with adjustable headrests and an energy absorbing back panel. In the event that there is an accident and an unbelted passenger in the vehicle, the energy absorbing material provides added cushion.
Lightweight for sustainability
In recent years, reducing vehicle weight to decrease fuel costs without compromising on design has been a constant goal for manufacturers.
4ONE, American Seating and Freedman Seating have all reported an even bigger pressure today to develop seats that meet those needs. Each seat they release aims to be lighter and more sustainable than the last.
“More public transit authorities are becoming concerned with this and that implies a trend toward weight reduction wherever possible,” says Miko.
According to Kiel, in some cases choosing the correct seating package can save up to 400 pounds or more per vehicle. Kiel recently introduced a double seat with a pedestal and wall fixation that weighs less than 40 pounds. They are currently working toward releasing a seat with a slightly wider bottom to provide additional comfort and ample leg room, while still keeping the light-weight and modern design.