By Richard Tackett
The city of Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan, Canada, invests in transit to substantially increase mobility and accessibility for its citizens. In 2018, Regina Transit provided approximately 7 million rides over a service area of 180 km square. The city has a high demand for paratransit service, and many customers using mobility devices are interested in using fixed-route transit for some of their trips – as it allows for more flexibility and spontaneity than paratransit.
Two years ago, the City of Regina entered a pilot program with Q’Straint, a longtime partner to the agency. As part of an overall strategy to increase accessibility independence while maintaining excellent customer service and a high standard of safety for Regina Transit’s passengers, the city has outfitted nine vehicles with QUANTUM and Q’POD securement systems.
QUANTUM is transit’s first fully automatic rear-facing wheelchair securement station. Using QUANTUM, Regina Transit customers back their own wheelchairs or scooters into the system, press a button and independently secure themselves. QUANTUM’s side-arm lowers and hugs the wheel, safely securing the wheelchair with minimal operator assistance. If the passenger is not able to push the occupant button independently, the bus operator can push the button located on the dash – thus securing or releasing the rider without walking back.
Likewise, Q’Straint’s Q’POD is the industry’s first fully integrated forward-facing wheelchair securement station specifically designed and tested for transit wheelchair passenger transportation. The system bolts directly into a bus, with an integrated shoulder belt eliminating the need for window brackets. Q’POD’s stabilizing bumper works with the front tensioner and scooter ring, allowing for three-point securement and less trip hazards.
“Having a securement system in fixed-route transit buses that allows people to travel with minimum operator intervention is a great incentive, mainly because of ease-of-use,” said Brad Bells, director of Transit and Fleet for the City of Regina. “Because people have different preferences, Regina Transit has chosen to use the forward facing Q’POD and rearward facing QUANTUM to give customers a choice in the way their mobility device is oriented.”
Q’Straint is the only company able to offer the Q’POD and QUANTUM securement solutions, and Regina Transit representatives also said that the durability of Q’Straint products was a major factor in their decision.
Riders need to know that they are safe and secure when using public transportation, and the QUANTUM and Q’POD securement stations are designed to give riders with mobility devices independence and reassurance.
“The independence of the QUANTUM and Q’POD gives riders with mobility devices the flexibility to get from point-A to point-B on a daily basis, without having to worry about pre-arranging paratransit transportation,” said Paul Faucher, Canadian sales manager for Q’Straint. “The goal is to provide freedom and independence to the city’s riders while increasing ridership and unclogging the paratransit services.”
Riders transition from paratransit to fixed route
Currently, Regina has a higher percentage of riders that use paratransit services as opposed to fixed-route transit. These dual securement stations were installed to encourage the city’s riders to use public transit by giving them the same independence and safety that they covet when using the paratransit services.
Because paratransit currently operates at full capacity, the paratransit branch identified a need for travel training services as a way of strategically managing demand. The trend within transit systems across North America is to invest in moving passenger trips from paratransit to fixed-route transit.
To that end, Regina created a unique transit travel training program to help customers transition from using paratransit services to using fixed-route transit services. The program is a partnership with Creative Options Regina, a community-based organization that supports persons with disabilities, in conjunction with the University of Regina’s 4to40 program. The project ultimately aims to create meaningful employment for people experiencing disabilities, as all the trainers have disabilities themselves.
Furthermore, having paratransit customers use fixed-route transit for some of their trips results in the following benefits for them:
- The ability to travel through the community without needing to book trips in advance and adhere to specific trip travel times
- Flexibility in trip selection which will lead to decreased isolation and increased community involvement
- Increased independence, a necessary skill for employment readiness
Paratransit services benefit by having an enhanced availability of trips for those who need them.
The training is completely customized for each potential rider. Trainers meet with each person, discuss their needs and desires for transit – whether it be for work, groceries, or even recreation – and map out a plan for the transit training.
After creating a plan, the trainer and trainee board a bus and run the desired route as many times as needed for the trainee to become comfortable. The next step involves the trainee riding the route with minimal supervision, before finally riding by themselves with the trainer following in a separate vehicle.
“For some people, it takes a long time to learn one route,” said Lynette Griffin, manager of Paratransit and Revenue Services for the City of Regina. “For others, it may only take a couple of training sessions before they’re comfortable using any transit route throughout the city.”
Griffin said the QUANTUM and Q’POD systems have been invaluable to the program.
“It’s very important to the success of the program for riders to easily board and deboard a bus, at the same speed as other customers, so they can feel like their experience is truly accessible,” she said.
“And so, it just enables people to feel very comfortable,” she added. “It makes it easy for the operator. It helps the bus to stay on time. It helps the customers feel like they’re not being singled out, because it’s not a long and involved process to be secured.”
An example of two people who have successfully graduated from this training program are Paige and Pagan Racette, featured in the photography accompanying this article. Both Paige and Pagan rode paratransit service exclusively until they participated in Regina Transit’s unique transit travel training program. They now use fixed-route transit for most of their trips.
Operator and driver feedback
Regina Transit customers appreciate the ability to independently secure themselves without operator assistance. They simply enter the bus, position themselves in the QUANTUM securement station, press a button and the QUANTUM arm secures the device in under 25 seconds. Even customers with larger mobility devices can use the QUANTUM because there is a generous amount of space provided in the securement station.
Customers are telling Regina Transit that they like to secure themselves because it gives them more independence. They are treated the same as everyone else on the bus because they do not require the operator to get out of their seat and give them special assistance securing their device.
Likewise, Regina’s bus operators like the QUANTUM securement system because it requires minimal operator assistance.
The securement process can be completed very quickly allowing them to maintain their schedules. The bus operators also appreciate the Q’POD securement system because it is easy to use and takes less time to deploy than other forward-facing securement systems. Operators are very concerned about staying on time, so the efficiency of the QUANTUM and Q’POD is valued.
Regina Transit has seen ridership by persons with disabilities increase on fixed-route transit as a result of its investments in accessibility improvements. In 2018, over 45,000 trips were taken on fixed-route transit by person who also used paratransit, which is a huge increase over the 32,000 trips taken the two years previous in 2016. All operators have received disability awareness and securement training. The QUANTUM and Q’POD ensure a safe, easy and comfortable ride for customers using mobility devices while assisting bus operators to maintain schedules.
Regina Transit is committed to continuous improvement and will invest in products, services and vehicles that enhance the customer experience. Accessibility will remain a high priority because changes that are made to accommodate persons experiencing disabilities benefit all customers.
“Regina is a city constantly looking for new ways to improve the transportation system for the community,” Faucher said. “It’s important to the city that transportation is not only readily available but safe and accessible for all riders. The adoption of the QUANTUM and Q’POD on Regina’s fixed transit routes has been received with open arms from riders with mobility devices. The city has been promoting and will continue to promote the new securement systems to ensure that riders with mobility devices know they now have more options available to them.”
Installation and training
The nine QUANTUM securement systems were implemented in two phases. The first five devices were retrofitted onto existing buses. All told, the systems took one week to install on all five buses. After demonstrated success, four additional QUANTUMs were purchased in conjunction with a new bus order.
Regina Transit has a number of customers who prefer or need (because of medical conditions) to ride forward facing. The Q’POD is an ideal forward facing securement solution because it requires minimal intervention from the bus operator and the securement process is quick and easy. Others prefer to use the QUANTUM because it allows them to secure themselves independently in under 25 seconds.
“Regina Transit feels very strongly about its decision to offer two different types of mobility device securement stations on its buses because it offers choice, which is very important to customers,” Griffin said.
Q’Straint initially sent a representative to teach trainers how to use the QUANTUM and Q’Pod securement stations. These trainers in turn taught the operators and supervisors how to use the systems. Q’Straint also taught maintenance protocols to fleet maintenance staff.
Griffin said training on the securement systems was received very well, because both systems required less intervention from the operators. Staff were able to see the benefits of using the systems, so the agency saw significant buy-in from its team members.
“Training is a very important factor in the implementation process,” Faucher said. “If drivers don’t know how to use the equipment properly, it can put the riders at risk. Therefore, once the first retrofit bus was completed with the QUANTUM and Q’POD, Q’Straint provided extensive training to the Regina training supervisors as well as other trainers on the team. Members of the Regina Transit management team were also present during the training.”
Per Regina officials, there were no issues related to installing or using the Q’PODs. Initially, the QUANTUMS that were installed on the buses were retrofits. There were some hurdles related to the wiring. Q’Straint provided excellent customer service and sent representatives to address any issues that were experienced in a timely manner.
“Since this was a retrofit installation, minor adjustments were required throughout the process,” Faucher said. “When any issues were to arise, we would quickly send out a Q’STRAINT technician to make the installation process as seamless as possible. Onsite in Regina, in light of a problem, a Q’STRAINT technician would not only resolve the issue but would perform continuous training to the mechanical department of Regina.”
Since the initial hurdles with the wiring the QUANTUMs have been fixed, Regina Transit has experienced no further problems. Both the QUANTUM and Q’POD securement systems have stood up well in Regina’s extreme temperatures.
Regina Transit is confident that offering both the Q’POD and QUANTUM will provide options for its customers in wheelchairs, while also helping unclog the paratransit branch and create capacity for more paratransit customers.