By John Walsh
With today’s bus market needing some freshening, the industry’s focus should be on the future and what comes next; aimed at stepping up research and development to improve the rider experience for everyone.
The industry cannot continue as it has for the last 25 years, and needs to pick up the pace — namely in the area of accessibility, which is essentially the driving force of companies like ours.
The industry may or may not agree, but we need have an eye on newness; brush the dust off what we have been working on, and make our intentions shine a little more. If we don’t, the industry plugs along with “commodity products”. These products tend to treat customers as commodities rather than serving them; which doesn’t fly favorable in the arena of accessible transport.
Passengers with disabilities are expecting to travel less conspicuously as members of the mainstream. Though they require specific accommodations, to the extent possible, treatment for them should be no different than anyone else on the bus. For passengers feeling left behind, it’s important to address their future through a full range of buses with enhanced accessibility that allow their much-needed transparency, comfort and ease of mind.
The only way to achieve this more respectable level of service is to quit building the same old buses the same old way, such as high-floor buses with conventional lifts that afford little comfort.
First and foremost, the image of accessibility must resound positively through “never-until-now” experiences. The question then becomes this: What must we do to improve our current products?
REV Group, along with several other companies in the industry, offers accessible low-floor vehicles that range from low-floor minivan like the ElDorado Mobility Amerivan, for people with disabilities to a 40-foot low-floor transit bus like the Access built by ENC.
A very robust Research and Development program is low-floor driven, featuring ramps, more convenient securements and amenities design with for passengers with specific needs. It is also alt-fuel driven, as accessibility is expensive. Operators must consider their total costs of operation in perspective. As an OEM, our job is to keep costs down as much as possible.
Still, looking ahead, our focus is to move further away from the commodity mode, and focus more on top-quality vehicles that enhance accessibility, and make transport easier for end-users and operators.
This vision for the future goes beyond the act of getting on and off the bus. It encompasses the entire trip on buses that should become more inviting than ever. In a commodity market, everyone builds a similar simple bus without the essential upgrades that deliver a better ride. For example, to a visually impaired passenger, contrasting colors in a bus are very important. With buses built with black or gray flooring, we encourage agencies to mark the aisle in white. The contrast helps both wheelchair-using and ambulatory passengers navigate in and out of the bus.
We try to give such attention to every aspect of the ride for the passenger in a wheelchair. Examples include providing grab rails for that position, as well as modifying the chime system that alerts the driver of a coming stop. Typically, the pull-cord is out of reach for the passenger in a wheelchair. We are instead installing push buttons flush-mounted in the wall within easy reach.
In many respects, our industry has looked upon accessibility and ADA mandates as almost a necessary evil. We don’t believe that at all. Looking to the future, REV Group is eyeing a pivot that will blend accessibility with an easier experience. The industry needs improved access that includes disabled passengers rather than sets them apart.
Making it possible for everyone to board a bus at the same pace and the same efficiency is the new mainstream, and the new protocol for doing business.