Palm Tran’s routes stretch across Palm Beach County, Florida, a large and dynamic service area in Florida’s southeastern coast. The agency’s fixed-route services transport 22,000 daily passengers, with the Palm Tran Connection for paratransit and on-demand services handling trips for an additional 2,500 daily passenger trips for residents with disabilities or other obstacles for traveling.
With so many trips running through the CONNECTION service and its limited daily capacity, Palm Tran leadership is working hard to make fixed-route transit as accessible as possible for all riders. Then with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, wheelchair passenger securement became an even hotter topic.
Starting with Q’STRAINT
When evaluating accessibility products in 2014, Palm Tran leadership was impressed with the Q’POD from Q’STRAINT. Beginning in early 2015, Palm Tran specified Q’POD on all new fixed-route bus deliveries.
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.
Palm Tran Fights COVID with QUANTUM
Fast forward to 2017 when Q’STRAINT visited Palm Beach County to demonstrate a newer device to Palm Beach leadership – QUANTUM.
QUANTUM is transit’s first fully automatic rear-facing wheelchair securement station. Using QUANTUM, Palm Tran 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.
QUANTUM can secure a wheelchair in less than 25 seconds; from when the passenger pushes the occupant-secure button to final securement. Q’POD reduces a four-point system’s securement time by half.
“Both the Q’POD and QUANTUM systems are the latest in forward and rear facing wheelchair securement technology,” said Mitch Drouillard, southern regional sales manager for Q’STRAINT. “This combination provided Palm Tran’s ridership and operators with the safest, easiest, and least time-consuming method of wheelchair securement. With QUANTUM, the passenger can secure their mobility device without operator assistance.”
This was followed by an onsite demonstration of QUANTUM to Palm Tran leadership, supervisors, trainers, maintenance staff, operators, and ATU union representatives.
Shortly after, Palm Tran added QUANTUM to 11 Gillig buses that were already in production.
“We were drawn to the ease of use and the desire for contactless securement, especially later on during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chad Hockman, director of operations for Palm Tran. “Through evaluation of potential products, we found that Q’STRAINT most closely met our needs.”
The dual availability of QUANTUM and Q’POD made Q’STRAINT a top choice for Palm Tran. Additionally, the systems’ overall durability played a significant factor in the purchase.
Not long after these 11 Gillig buses were delivered and received positive feedback, COVID-19 struck agencies nationwide. Hockman said Palm Tran began immediately assessing measures to protect drivers and passengers against infection.
“In June 2020, we were receiving a lot of pushbacks from drivers about wheelchair securement and potential exposure,” he said. “QUANTUM became increasingly popular at this time, so we made the decision to retrofit our entire fleet with self-securement systems.”
The buses retrofitted with QUANTUM required removal of one of the forward-facing securement stations prior to installation. Drouillard said the QUANTUM retrofit kit came with everything needed for a turnkey installation.
Q’STRAINT provided onsite operational and maintenance training to Palm Tran training staff. In addition to the hands-on training, Q’STRAINT provided training videos, electronic service manuals for their maintenance technicians, and enrollment in the QUANTUM Operator Certification Course offered through the Q’STRAINT Training AQADEMY.
As of today, QUANTUM and Q’POD are now standard equipment on all new fixed route bus deliveries for Palm Tran.
Hockman said that Palm Tran riders have been vocally supportive of the QUANTUM self-securement process. Passengers can walk on to a bus, position their wheelchair in the QUANTUM station, and be secured in less than 25 seconds with the press of a button.
The system provides a new level of independence for Palm Tran riders. Many feel empowered, as they are now treated the same as everyone else on the bus – not needing the driver to stand up and provide special assistance securing their device.
“The system is easy to use, and passenger feel secure and in control of being secured on the bus,” he said. “They like being in control of securing themselves and it gives them the feeling of independence. A rider moves into position, activates the device, and double checks they are secure.”
The amount of space provided in the station means that QUANTUM can accommodate wheelchairs of many sizes.
“The Q’POD is preferred for oversize wheelchairs and scooters that are a challenge, while the QUANTUM works for many sizes,” Hockman said. “Drivers appreciate that it is contactless and they don’t have to get out of the seat. It really does allow the passenger to be secured in a shorter amount of time.”
In a post-COVID transit environment, riders require a sense of security when traveling. The QUANTUM and Q’POD securement stations are designed to give riders with mobility devices independence and reassurance.
“With Q’POD, even the most difficult mobility devices are typically secured in half the time as traditional four-point securement,” Drouillard said. “With QUANTUM, securements can take as few as 25 seconds. This time savings significantly reduces dwell time allowing the bus to maintain an efficient schedule. Passengers using QUANTUM experience the independence of securing their mobility devices without operator assistance, unless requested.”
The systems have an added benefit of hopefully attracting more paratransit-focused customers to fixed-route trips, freeing up paratransit trips for even more customers.
Similarly, Hockman said, drivers like the QUANTUM securement system because it requires minimal operator assistance.
“The drivers love not having to get out of the seat, but also the peace-of-mind knowing that the passenger is secured in their position,” he said. “If someone has issues using self-securement, we move them over to the Q’POD and help strap them in – but the QUANTUM response has been very positive on all fronts.”
The quick securement process helps drivers to maintain safe distancing. The bus operators also appreciate the Q’POD securement system because it is easy to use and takes less time to deploy than many other forward-facing securement systems.
Hockman said that Palm Tran envisions having QUANTUM and Q’POD installed on all future bus orders. Because some passengers had troubles with the rear-facing nature of QUANTUM, he said that Next-Stop screens will be added to the rear of the vehicles for their benefit.
Drouillard added that Palm Train is on the cutting edge of passenger accessibility, which pays dividends in community engagement and ridership.
“With QUANTUM and Q’POD, Q’STRAINT has helped Palm Tran make safety accessible for everyone; efficiently and courteously,” he said.