NUMBER ONE
FOR COACH & BUS

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November 29 2017
By Mel Holley

Mel was routeONE magazine’s Editor until autumn 2018. He has more than 30 years’ experience in road and rail transport journalism.


Driving mobility: How can an operator
make a genuine difference?

Do your passengers want hassle-free travel? Of course. But what about all your passengers, including those in wheelchairs?

That’s the question that Lothian Buses tackled with its new 30-strong sightseeing fleet, which it fitted with Quantum, made by Q’Straint.

It’s a user-operated drop-down arm fitted at the wheelchair space that pushes the ‘chair to hold it in place.

Ready to go: Quantum automatically stores the ‘arm’ vertically out of the way, and lowers to a horizontal ‘clamping position’, when the user presses the button

The idea is two-fold: First it holds the wheelchair securely in place, secondly it doesn’t need any assistance so users can be totally independent.

To see if it really does make a difference we met Helen Dolphin, a member of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, in Edinburgh for a mystery shopper test.

Slippery floors

While many bus drivers, as part of a disability awareness DCPC, may have tried boarding a bus in a yard in a wheelchair, it bears little resemblance to real life.

This was vividly demonstrated when we went ‘mystery shopping’ with Helen in Norwich (routeONE, operations, 1 March). The drivers were all helpful, courteous and their driving of good standard.

But none of this helped when cornering, even at low speed, due to the tendency of the wheelchair to suddenly move sideways.

The regulation-sized bay, with non-adjustable poles and rails, is a necessary compromise. And it’s one that is not good. If you are travelling forwards, at least you have any idea of when the bus is likely to turn. But, facing backwards, it’s more akin to a not-very-fun fairground ride.

As a result, Helen spent most of her time hanging on, in nervous expectation of when the wheelchair might suddenly move. It’s unpleasant and dreadfully nerve-wracking.

The alternative

Accompanied by husband Paul and assistance dog Fairport, we travelled into the city on one of Lothian’s Volvo 79000 hybrids, with Helen adopting her standard ‘hang on tight’ pose. It’s a fairly straight route and we didn’t encounter any serious problems.

And so to Waverley Bridge, the sightseeing tours’ main departure point opposite Edinburgh Waverley railway station. The pavement is crowded and there’s a choice of four tours (Edinburgh, Majestic, CitySightseeing and 3 Bridges), all operated by Lothian with very different brands and liveries, so at first glance they appear to be competing.

On the move: Screen displays CCTV forward road view, Quantum instructions on the right

We select the Edinburgh tour, a hop-on, hop-off circular route running every 10 minutes. The bus is swish with wood-effect flooring, although plastic seats are a compromise, even downstairs.

Quantum’s operation is helped by a simple instructions alongside a wall-mounted button. You position the wheelchair, press the button, and the powered arm lowers and ‘grips’ the wheel. It takes just a few seconds. This, observes Helen, is much preferable to a driver leaning over to strap you in.

While most passengers are upstairs enjoying the open-top view, downstairs it’s a more restricted. The glazed staircase helpfully lets more light into the otherwise gloomier front of a ‘decker, and aids sightseeing.

Helen is facing backwards, as the regulations require, but at least has a screen in front of her displaying the CCTV camera’s forward view. This is okay, but it’s designed for insurance and safety, so shows the road immediately in front of the bus, rather than the sights.

Good news

Helen feels totally safe and confident. With no worries that the wheelchair is about to slide, or worse, she will be suddenly tipped out of it, she’s enjoying the ride and commentary. It’s a little tricky having to convert ‘look to the left’ into ‘look to the right’, as she’s facing backwards, but the live guide is very good and we’re having fun.

Grassmarket bus stop ‘not available’. Just enough spare kerb to board

We decide to de-camp for lunch in Grassmarket. The driver tells us he’ll do his best. The bus stop isn’t closed, but it’s not available, as Scottish Water’s dug a hole and gone away. Happily, our driver finds a piece of kerb where he’s able to deploy the manual ramp.

After the café agrees to make some ‘reasonable adjustments’ we pick up our route. The friendly lady driver not only calls at the ‘non’ stop, but is straight out of the cab to deploy the ramp, and offers to help deploying Quantum. Back on board, we continue the rest of the route.

Thinking points

There’s no doubt that Quantum works, and works well. Helen says she felt “completely relaxed,” and enjoyed the journey rather than being continually on edge trying to anticipate what will happen, compounded by not being able to see ahead. “It’s hassle-free travel,” she concludes. Overall, it’s been a brilliant experience.

The system, or something like it, should be fitted on every bus. Yes, there’s a capital cost, but as a percentage of the vehicle’s value it’s small.

Importantly, it means that the likelihood of accidents, and the worry that drivers face about wheelchair users suddenly being decanted due to the physics with a non-restrained ‘chair, are removed.

In a right-thinking society, it’s something that the industry must do.

Find out more: Helen Dolphin at goo.gl/i5eyj0



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