Quantum, the robust wheelchair securement device from Q’Straint, is finally here. The product is being installed on UK buses in trials to establish its usefulness and to familiarise operators with the product. Jessamy Chapman reports on the first example, with EYMS.
For wheelchair users in Hull, catching the bus just got safer.
The first example of Quantum, the innovative and sleek-looking bus securement system from Q’Straint, has been installed in an EYMS bus in Hull, in a trial that has so far seen around 300 users.
And, Q’Straint is planning to roll out trials of Quantum with other operators, including Lothian Buses in Edinburgh.
It’s about familiarising the industry with the product, says Q’Straint Sales Manager Georgie Georgiades. Quantum was launched at Busworld in Kortrijk, in October 2013, but still has yet to be sold to a UK operator. So the trials â€“ EYMS’s has been installed since the end of February â€“ are set to educate operators about what Quantum can do.
How it works
Quantum is a simple enough concept. It’s a rear-facing system that fits in the bus’ standard wheelchair bay; the wheelchair user simply positions him or herself against the backrest as normal, and two arms are used to clamp the chair in place.
The aisle-side arm moves out and down 90 degrees, drawing parallel with the wheelchair’s wheels, and moves in until both arms, lined with robust rubber grips, are holding the chair in place; 50lb of pressure keeps the wheelchair in place at all times. It takes only 20 seconds.
It’s designed to be very easy to use, and has a set of easy-to-read instructions next to it so wheelchair users know what to do. The driver is also able to operate Quantum from the cab. So far, there have been no reported problems on EYMS’s bus related to actually using it.
Its safety features are numerous. Quantum cannot release the wheelchair unless the bus’ handbrake is on, which prevents it from being tampered with, accidentally or otherwise. There is an emergency release switch.
If the moving arm of Quantum comes into contact with anything as it deploys, it stops, tries again twice, and then gives off an alarm.
Quantum in action
To give a real representation of how Quantum can help disabled bus passengers, Q’Straint invited Helen Dolphin, a journalist and campaigner, to Hull to use Quantum in situ.
Helen, a wheelchair user herself, explained how the current provision for wheelchair users on buses is often inadequate. â€œMost of the time using the bus is fine, but if the floor is wet the wheelchair can slide about,â€ she says. â€œSome wheelchairs don’t even have proper brakes. It doesn’t feel safe, and it’s something that puts off wheelchair users from using buses.â€
On a tour of Hull, Helen uses Quantum flawlessly; the button is pushed, and in 20 seconds the two arms are holding the wheelchair firmly in place. Helen reports that there are no wobbles, no feeling of insecurity: â€œI don’t feel like I’m moving at all.â€ When the bus stops, the button is pushed again and the wheelchair released in 20 seconds.
As for mobility scooters, which are becoming ever more common, Quantum is useful because the size and weight of the machines changes their centre of gravity, and makes the user even less secure.
An anti-tipping pole or retractable rail is usually found on buses â€“ but passengers and some operators often don’t even know what this is, and assume it’s an extra handpole. Q’Straint is in talks with the DfT and Vehicle Certification Agency to allow Quantum to be used on a bus in place of the retractable rail or anti-tipping pole in DDA legislation.
And, while incidents of wheelchairs tipping over in buses may be comparatively rare, Georgie believes that many incidents simply go unreported or are not classed as accidents.
â€œBecause passengers don’t know that there’s an anti-tipping pole, they might feel guilty for tipping over,â€ he says. â€œThe people being hit by wheelchairs are the ones more likely to complain.
â€œSome operators we’ve spoken to, the ones we’ll be working with in the future, have a high number of wheelchair users, and accidents do happen. But 90% of the time there’ll be an apology and an act of kindness, and it’s not seen as a problem.â€
It’s not a lengthy installation process, taking only four hours.
However, while retrofits are available, Q’Straint is aiming to bring the product to market through the manufacturers.
It is in talks with most major European bus builders to incorporate Quantum into their designs, and operators will be able to specify Quantum on new buses from the first quarter of next year. â€œThe manufacturers have responded very positively,â€ says Georgie. â€œWe’re now at the stage where we’re discussing installations.â€
Q’Straint hasn’t divulged the price of Quantum as it has not yet been set. It will vary according to the volume of orders.
Of the operators who expressed an initial interest in Quantum, Q’Straint chose EYMS: â€œThanks to Chairman and Chief Executive Peter Shipp’s enthusiasm for the industry and for new technology,â€ says Georgie.
â€œHe’s not afraid to try different things, to benefit customers as well as the operation, and not always for commercial reasons.â€
Robert Gibson, Engineering Director at EYMS, compliments the build and engineering of Quantum, and its â€œobvious benefit of safety.â€ However, EYMS currently has no plans to roll it out on other buses.
â€œOne thing we do hear from wheelchair users is that they don’t like facing rearwards because they don’t know where the bus is or where their stop is,â€ he tells routeone. â€œIf Q’Straint provides a forward-facing version, that would be very useful because it could replace the usual restraints and speed up boarding times, on National Express coaches, for example.â€
In the next few weeks Quantum will also be installed on a Lothian bus, among other operators, in beta trials to gauge how well it works, and to sort any technical issues, usage problems and volumes.
â€œThe product is available for sale now, but as a company we’re not over-zealous about selling it to the market â€“ it’s about getting it right first,â€ says Georgie.
â€œThe development of the concept and the vision of an automatic wheelchair securement system has been in Q’Straint’s mind for many years, and Quantum is the result of that dream.â€
Since its launch the time to deploy has been reduced from 25 seconds to 20. â€œWe’re always trying to improve it,â€ says Georgie. â€œWe realise drivers are on a tight schedule.â€
It’s been in Hull for five months, since the end of February, and has seen â€œin excess of 200-300 usersâ€. Reliability has been â€œfantasticâ€ so far.
Says Georgie: â€œFrom this trial we’ve learned about what ticks the boxes for operators, we’ve learned what’s needed for a comprehensive training programme for the driver, and we’ve learned what the wheelchair user wants.â€