Heavy-duty buses ramp up accessibility

Heavy-duty buses ramp up accessibility

By Mike Ammann

EQUAL ACCESS ICONIn this installment of Equal Access, Mike Ammann, vice president of sales for ENC (formerly Eldorado National California and now a division of the REV Group), responds to questions on his company’s philosophy in regards to making heavy-duty vehicles more accessible.

How are transit bus OEMs improving heavy-duty vehicles in order to make them as accessible — or nearly as accessible — as small and midsize paratransit vehicles?
ENC manufactures a medium-duty front-engine low-floor cutaway, along with heavy duty, rear-engine standard and low-floor transit buses that range from 30 to 40 feet in length.
It is safe to say that not all bus builders are fully committed to concept of complete accessibility. For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the ENC’s heavy-duty low-floor transit products, which are the most relevant to the ADA community because they focus expressly on accessibility in normal fixed-route applications.

What advantages does the more accessible standard transit bus offer over other products in the market?
Larger, heavy-duty low-floor transit buses with higher weight-rated chassis can accommodate up to six wheelchair positions depending on the length of the bus. This carrying capacity is simply not available on many small and midsize paratransit vehicles. In many cases, their chassis weight ratings are so low they can barely accommodate two wheelchairs and a full complement of ambulatory passengers. With ENC models offering GVWR ratings up to 43,000 pounds, wheelchair capacity is never an issue.

What is ENC doing to improve accessibility on heavy-duty transit buses?
With a growing ADA population, and the advent of larger and heavier wheelchairs and scooters, ENC goes to considerable lengths to modify its products to provide the necessary accommodations. All ENC low-floor vehicles feature a 102-inch interior with a wider aisle that makes it easier for wheelchairs and scooters to and park.
Our rear engine low-floor models utilize a wheelchair ramp that is exceedingly flat with up to an 8:1 slope. Loading from a 6-inch curb, wheelchair and ambulatory passengers have nearly a straight-level shot into the bus. This is superior to most small or midsize paratransit vehicles.
By virtue of the wider bodies and heavy-duty chassis, larger buses offer the latest securement options, such as the Q’Straint Quantum, which can be heavy and require significant space within the bus.  These can be cumbersome or impossible to install on smaller buses.
Perhaps more unique to the industry, ENC’s 30, 32 and 35-foot E-Z Rider II and the 35 and 40-foot Axess models offer dual wheelchair ramps placed at the front and center doors of the vehicle. This dual set-up allows wheelchair-using passengers to enter at the front door, pay their fare and exit at the back without disrupting ambulatory flow. This feature lowers dwell time at stops and affords all passengers an equal level of service.
As an added benefit: Should the situation arise that a front-end accident damages the front entry and renders the ramp inoperable, a transit bus equipped with a second ramp at the center door provides emergency egress for wheelchairs and scooters.

What should operators take into consideration before purchasing fully-accessible transit buses?
With the option for front and / or center entry ramps, the transit agency has an opportunity to customize its ADA solution in accordance with its customer base. For example, agencies operating in areas with a larger wheelchair population will consider the center door ramp location. This entrance places the wheelchair ramp directly across from the wheelchair securements. Wheelchair passengers can move directly to the tie downs without disturbing other passengers.
The center door ramp also alleviates the challenge of maneuvering longer, wider, heavier wheelchairs and scooters onto the bus, where the pitch point for that first turn at the front door is 90 degrees.  That said, operators must determine if the center ramp would actually be out of position for boarding at transit stops designed only for a 40-foot bus with one ramp at the front door.

What further improvements in accessibility can operators expect in the future?
Any lasting improvement in this area, such as a dual-ramp system and the recent innovations in securement systems, will give more consideration to the freedom and independence the ADA community is demanding from transportation providers. ENC literally searches the world over for such innovations.

Mike Ammann serves as vice president of sales for ENC, a brand of REV Group. Visit www.revgroup.com for more information.