Q’Straint secures the future of accessibility at Tulsa Transit
Official BUSRide Field Test:
Q’Straint secures the future of accessibility at Tulsa Transit
By David Hubbard
Emeka Nnaka arrived in Tulsa, OK, in 2007 to attend Oral Roberts University and carve out his career goals, with early success playing semi-pro football pointing the way. His future was looking bright after an Oklahoma Thunder championship caught the attention of professional scouts.
But during a game in 2008, his world turned dark in an instant when a fateful tackle left Nnaka permanently paralyzed from the chest down.
“I immediately went from being completely independent and chasing my dreams to having to re-learn my life and being nearly totally dependent on other people,” he says. “Since that day, it has taken an incredible amount of strength just to get through the barrage of life-altering changes.”
To help gain perspective on his situation, Nnaka immersed himself in the work of The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges. It was there that he was able to meet, share and work with people who were adjusting to circumstances similar to his. While employed in rehabilitation services, Nnaka not only finished college, he enrolled in and is currently attending graduate school at the University of Oklahoma.
Q’Straint and Tulsa Transit are thinking beyond safety
Enter Q’Straint, the Ft. Lauderdale, FL, company that specializes in safe wheelchair securement and its customer, Tulsa Transit in Tulsa, OK.
Tulsa Transit recently installed the new Q’Straint Quantum — the first fully-automatic rear-facing wheelchair securement station — on its low-floor transit fleet.
“Quantum allows passengers with wheelchairs or scooters to maneuver themselves into position on transit buses and trains,” says Mitch Drouillard, southern regional sales manager for the transit and rail market segments for Q’Straint. “Basically, the passenger backs their wheelchair or scooter into the securement device and, with the push of a button, independently secures themselves in a stable and safe rear-facing position. The arm on the side lowers the grip to hug the wheel and secure the chair in place — all in less than 25 seconds and without requiring the driver’s assistance.”
“The driver activates the system when he sees a wheelchair passenger about to board,” Drouillard adds. “When the passenger is secured, the driver must confirm from their seats to perform the Quantum’s final squeeze at which time the signals on the driver’s dashboard deactivate, indicating it is safe for the driver to proceed. When compared to driver-assisted securement, which can take up to seven or eight minutes to complete, the time savings are astounding.”
Tulsa Transit goes Quantum
In the early development stages of two new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes, Tulsa Transit realized such an expedited service would also require faster boarding. They elected to include a more independent securement system in the upgrade; one that would sync with the time constraints BRT imposes while also supporting their mission of inclusion and safety.
“We visited San Antonio to observe the BRT system in service by VIA Metropolitan Transit,” says Debbie Ruggles, Tulsa Transit assistant general manager. “We could see that passengers who use wheelchairs would need a self-securement device that somehow did not involve the driver. We also recognized the way in which traditional securement systems can impede on a wheelchair passenger’s sense of personal space by requiring the driver to intercede, which can often create awkwardness and discomfort for both the passenger and the driver.”
The subsequent search for alternatives led Tulsa Transit directly to Q’Straint.
“Actually, we discovered Quantum online,” Ruggles says. “We knew these features would work perfectly for our system, so we contacted Q’Straint.”
After a series of phone calls and a lengthy visit at an industry trade show, Tulsa Transit requested a formal Quantum product presentation from Q’Straint.
“The Tulsa Transit management team was convinced that the features and benefits of Quantum would have a positive impact on its ridership,” Drouillard says.
“To get started, Q’Straint installed the Quantum system on a test bus at Tulsa Transit, which only took one day,” adds Willie Perez, product service and R&D technician at Q’Straint. “We then conducted our own road test on the Quantum system to be sure it functioned as designed and was installed correctly.”
Once Quantum was in operation, Tulsa Transit invited Emeka Nnaka to test the new automatic self-securement technology and offer his thoughts.
“What I first noticed was simply the thrill of boarding the bus, whipping my chair around into position, pushing the button and getting secured all by myself,” he says. “It felt great to not have to wait for the driver. I felt like I gained back a piece of my independence. As someone living with a disability, I can say this may not seem important from the outside, but always being at the mercy of someone else, regaining even a small sense of independence is huge on the inside.”
Nnaka says the squeezing mechanism felt more stable than straps hooked to his wheelchair.
“If one strap is looser than the other, or if the straps aren’t as tight as they could be, the passenger gets shaken around for the entire ride,” he says. “With this system, I didn’t shake and rattle as much.”
Following the test period, and finding Quantum to perform to everyone’s satisfaction, Tulsa Transit opted to move ahead and have the product installed on two new buses that arrived in January 2016.
“We have since outfitted eight additional buses with Quantum, and feel completely comfortable that this is the way to go,” Ruggles says. “As we have just ended our five-year bus contract, we will include this equipment specification onto our new bus proposal when we go back out for bid.”
The agency says it also will retrofit Quantum to replace current securement devices not immediately due for replacement. Furthermore, it is preparing an RFP process to purchase self-securement systems for all its buses.
“We began with something we felt would be more applicable to our BRT system,” Ruggles says. “Now we are realizing how Quantum is going to solve issues for all of our transit customers on all of our routes.”
Proof of this came in customer feedback from survey cards placed in the “pilot” buses for riders who tested this equipment.
According to Tulsa Transit, with Quantum onboard, 100 percent of respondents participating in the trial survey found the staging time and boarding process much faster. Additionally, 92 percent said they felt safer and more secure using Quantum while the bus was in motion.
While some passengers were concerned about riding backwards, 83 percent said that they would like to see Quantum in more buses, Ruggles says — including some of the riders who were new to the rear-facing wheelchair position.
Q’Straint says it designed this product with respect to ADA safety requirements, with the goal to perform at safer levels than most traditional securement systems.
“To this point, rear-facing wheelchair positions have been determined to be the safest,” says Q’Straint Marketing Manager Maria Huertas. “And of course, above all else, safety is what we want for our customers.”
While Quantum is a relatively simple system and easy to operate, Huertas says the training Q’Straint provides is essential for satisfactory, reliable service.
Before Tulsa Transit put Quantum into service, Drouillard led the Q’Straint team in training the agency’s bus operators, supervisors and trainers on the operation of the system. Perez worked with the maintenance staff on preventative maintenance and troubleshooting.
“Q’Straint technicians led four separate training sessions for us, and provided training manuals and all necessary documentation,” Ruggles says. “The company even went so far as to produce a video on the proper use of this product featuring our own equipment and personnel. In our mind, this went far above and beyond what was expected. The video has now become a resource for all our drivers and new hires.”
A curbside issue leads to new opportunities
Tulsa Transit says one particular issue, perhaps of the agency’s own doing, arose early in the test stage. It had to do with the standard location of Quantum on the curbside of the bus.
“Only after Quantum was installed and in operation did we realize the backward-facing wheelchair position interfered somewhat with the level of visibility for the other passengers on the bus,” Ruggles says. “Not only that, we also were made aware of how the curbside location does not consider the feeling by passengers using wheelchairs that all eyes are on them.”
Tulsa Transit expressed its wish to Q’Straint to relocate Quantum streetside on the bus.
“This seemed like a simple solution to alleviate the feeling expressed by our wheelchair passengers riding curbside that they were sitting in a fish bowl,” Ruggles says. “Q’Straint told us that this switch would present some wiring challenges. Nonetheless, Q’Straint complied and switched the Quantum streetside, addressing the concerns of passengers who use wheelchairs.”
“Q’Straint went the extra mile,” Ruggles says. “They resolved all our issues with a fabulous result.”
Drouillard adds that this collaborative effort is truly in the best interest of passengers using wheelchairs.
Told of the Quantum system being relocated street side, Nnaka had an interesting take.
“I am glad to hear they switched the system to street side, behind the driver’s seat,” he says. “Actually, other passengers are more than likely looking past wheelchair riders to see their stops, but still it is very accommodating of Tulsa Transit to do all it can to help customers like me feel less conspicuous.”
“With our drivers’ first priority being to keep the bus running safely and on time, the capability to load all passengers, including those with challenges, in the quickest and most efficient manner is very important,” Ruggles says. “Quantum has not only improved our on-time performance, but with Tulsa Transit working diligently to move people from paratransit to fixed-route service, we see this as a much higher level of service for passengers using wheelchairs.”