The science of comfort, innovation and efficiency
By Jürgen Mill
Americans across the United States spent a combined 2.5 million hours in their seats on buses and coaches last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association. One of the great comforts passengers are looking for can and should be an island that happily takes them through time and space on a long journey, a hot spot that lets them connect and be creative when inspirations strikes on the go, or a place that gives them a few minutes of rest during a busy day.
If this sounds like an impossible dream, know that Kiel is investing over $5 million each year into the research of this very notion. Today the “science behind the seat” is a sophisticated affair and an art form that combines the expectations of six billion individual passenger rides, the needs and budgets of thousands of operators and the engineering requirements of bus builders into a roughly 16 inch square platform of bliss.
The science of design: The center seat of everything
Probably no other part of a bus or coach has to satisfy such many different demands to be a perfect fit for a program or fleet. Before bus or coach builders will recommend a seating solution to customers, they will have made sure that the model integrates smoothly into the vehicle. Operators need to know that they are acquiring a reliable, high-quality solution that stays up to date for years to come and helps cut operational and maintenance costs. Customers, no matter where they are going or coming from, regardless of size and age, need to feel secure, comfortable, and safe.
Customers are an extremely difficult and challenging audience to impress, and smart seating uses short make-it-or-break-it moments in its favor. From the first visual check to tactile judgments and even audio assessments, bus riders absolutely judge a seat by its cover. It is most important in the science on “median ergonomics” to provide a space of comfort to all segments of ridership at any point in their journey.
The science of safety: Fusing form and function
Safety is the omnipresent mantra in our industry. Kiel conducts about 200 dynamic crash tests per year and is constantly developing and improving the safety of its seats to offer the securest seat possible. Since the three-point seat belt became a European norm in 1995, we have been striving incessantly to create the perfect balance between a robust seating solutions that can absorb enough energy on impact and be a protective survival space while on the other hand being flexible enough so that no injuries can occur from protruding parts, for example. Once the three-point belt becomes mandatory in the U.S. for coaches in 2016, operators and manufacturers need to make sure that the seat of their choice provides a uniform restraint to avoid whiplash and is a good fit for many different sizes and shapes of riders.
While seats that are easy to maintain save operating costs, riders will thank agencies and operations for seats that look as good years from now as they did on the first day.
The science of savings: Cost-effectiveness through quality
For many years, European countries have been investing in innovative ways to cut fuel costs. Seating manufacturers have developed sophisticated technologies and materials to cut the average seat weight about 15 to 20 percent since 2005, a trend that is likely to be a significant topic in the U.S. as well. A recent project with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, for example, showed that the use of a lightweight coach seat reduces the amount of fuel by an astonishing 4 percent, which translates into savings of over $32,000 annually for the entire fleet of 31 coaches. Surveys among the ridership have exceeded the department’s expectations. While passengers are greatly enjoying the comfort and safety of the seat, the fuel saved equals 6,000 pounds of CO2-emissions per bus—a perfect fit for the ambitious GreenDOT initiative.
Cost-efficiency goes beyond weight economy, of course. The best modular solutions guarantee time-saving integration into the vehicle and are also flexible enough in design to adapt easily to the special requirements of each fleet.
The science of balance: The basics of seating everybody
Seventy years of experience in the bus seat sector have proven again and again that the best seat is a successful amalgamation of the needs and wants of riders, operators and bus builders. Whether it is a self-supporting shell seat for the city or a lush luxury coach model, the ideal seat is a harmonious, well-balanced combination of great design and proven safety, providing operators with a most irresistible “cost of ownership”.
Jürgen Mill is senior VP of Engineering and R&D at the Global Headquarters of the Kiel Group.