The Safe-T-Bus and EZSafe system are generating interest for unique, accessible design
With the introduction of the EZSafe floor system in its Safe-T-Bus buses and shuttles, MobilityTRANS is ushering in a new wave of high-tech safety features to its product line.
MobilityTRANS President Dave Brown founded the Michigan-based company after working for nearly a decade as a fleet manager at a local Chevrolet dealership. Handling the dealership’s commercial vehicle sales, Brown built a rapport with retirement communities and other customers using accessible vans and shuttles. Sensing a growing need for accessible vehicles after 1990’s passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Brown and his wife Geri formed MobilityTRANS (then named Mobility Transportation Services) in 1992.
In its first year of operation, Brown estimates MobilityTRANS sold 100 vehicles. Flash forward to 2002, and the company was selling around 500 vehicles a year. In 2018, MobilityTRANS sold its bus dealership business in order to focus strictly on manufacturing its own vehicles.
“Our business really exploded with the Ford Transit van,” Brown said. “However, after some time, we saw most of the Ford Transit manufacturers fall out of the market. Because of my familiarity with the ADA market, I thought, ‘Somebody’s got to build these vans for the dealers.’”
Today, MobilityTRANS’ dealer network extends throughout the country — delivering to all 50 states as well as Guam.
“Our vehicles are very attractive to rural transportation authorities,” Brown said, “several of which are using them for Shared Ride programs and non-emergency medical transport for seniors in outlying areas.”
Brown said the Ford Transit blurs the line between a van and a bus, especially the largest model weighing in at 10,300 gross vehicle weight rating with dual rear wheels.
The MobilityTRANS patented bus door system defines its Safe-T-Bus. The patented entry is the only one available that retains the safety of the full side curtain airbags. Brown said the MobilityTRANS design does not compromise the important structural Boron steel. The MobilityTRANS three-piece composite door surround precisely match the curve of the body, thereby eliminating exposed steel where rust might start.
The entry steps into the bus are a uniform 9 inches deep, 9 inches high, with even tread. The electrically-operated digital control on the outside, LED foot lighting and stainless steel grab rails at both sides of the entrance are standard features.
“The bus doorway, which we co-developed with a NorCal Van Conversions really gives the van the capacity of a small dual-rear-wheel bus,” Brown said. “It has the advantage of having a lot more components from Ford on the vehicle. For mechanical systems, we’ve only really added the power doorway and wheelchair lift. It’s a big advantage for a rural transportation agency if they can buy a vehicle and not drive hundreds of miles to get it serviced – their local Ford dealer can fix most of the mechanical componentry.”
EZSafe is a high-tech, advanced wheelchair tie-down and seating system. Introduced only last year in the United States, it has been available in the European market for over four years.
The system’s wheelchair securements are built into the floor of the van, eliminating the need for onboard storage. The driver is able to operate the system from two locations: a touchscreen affixed to the dashboard, or on the ceiling above the wheelchair position.
With the press of a button, the floor’s pockets in front of the wheelchair automatically slide open to reveal the front tie-downs. Once the driver secures the front tie-downs, the tie-down pockets to the rear of the wheelchair automatically slide open. Once the rear tie-downs are secured, a final pocket automatically opens to reveal the shoulder belt receiver.
To reverse the process, the driver presses the same button to release the retractors, and then removes the tie-downs from the wheelchair in reverse order.
If any of the securements are released during a trip, the driver is automatically notified via the dashboard’s touchscreen.
Most impressively, the system keeps an electronic log which stores a record of proper use. The log stores the time and date for every time the system is used while a van is in motion, and records whether or not the system was used properly.
“This is really important because, unlike some camera systems which only store data for a short period of time, the EZSafe system can keep a record of proper use for up to three years,” Brown said. “If a passenger is threatening litigation by claiming that they weren’t secured properly, this record can be invaluable to see what really happened.”
“It absolutely takes the guesswork out of wheelchair securement, and helps reduce liability in that sensitive area,” he continued.
Brown said that several state agencies are currently planning RFPs around the system, and some may be announcing procurement as of this printing. Many of those states are planning to make the system optional on state vehicle contracts, Brown said, but a few safety-focused states have indicated they plan to make the system standardized on their contracts.
“Agencies circling EZSafe are attracted to a few main factors,” Brown said. “First, the price point, which at around a $5,000 premium is very justifiable for transit agencies which are by nature liability- and safety-focused. Another benefit is the below-floor self-storage for the system’s tie-downs. You don’t have to worry about hooking them onto the back of the seat or in a pouch on the wall. The tie-downs are out of the way, but always where you need them.”
With the increased demand for MobilityTRANS vehicles, generated by the 2020 Safe-T-Bus models and the EZSafe system, the company is preparing to make its new home in a much larger facility to accommodate increased manufacturing.
Four times the sizes of its current building, the facility is 101,000 square-feet and one of the largest for building paratransit vans in the United States.
“We are excited to continue providing a reliable and safe product in the Safe-T-Bus and are very pleased with the early reception for the EZSafe system,” Brown said. “As more agencies see these vehicles and system in use, we will start to become very busy – but we are absolutely ready for it.”