Palm Tran Creates Paratransit-to-Fixed-Route Success with Q’STRAINT

Palm Tran’s 31 routes and 2,993 stops stretch across Florida’s Palm Beach County, a large and dynamic service area on the state’s southeastern coast. With a fleet of 141 buses and an average weekday ridership of 21,000, the agency runs close to 680,000 miles a month in fixed routes and nearly double that in paratransit.

“We have a very large, robust paratransit program,” Chad Hockman, director of operations at Palm Tran said. “One of the bigger concerns that we have always had here at Palm Tran was wheelchair securements and tie-downs. We wanted to ensure that people were secured on our buses while also maintaining their sense of independence.” 

Palm Tran’s fixed-route service operates 141 vehicles, while the Palm Tran CONNECTION for paratransit and on-demand service operates 300. 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.

“We have gradually been trying to shift that ridership from Palm Tran CONNECTION to fixed route,” Hockman said. “The Q’STRAINT systems have really helped smooth that transition for our residents with disabilities or other obstacles for traveling.”

Palm Tran was first introduced to the Q’STRAINT system in 2014 while evaluating various accessibility products. Agency leadership was impressed with the Q’POD from Q’STRAINT and, beginning in early 2015, specified Q’POD on all new fixed-route bus deliveries.

Q’POD was 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 fewer trip hazards. 

After successfully using the Q’POD system for several years, Palm Tran received another visit from Q’STRAINT in 2017 for a demonstration of their newest device – 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.

“Our paratransit riders love it because they are able to get on the bus without needing any assistance and put themselves in the position and push the button,” Hockman said. “They feel a little bit more independent and confident that they don’t need to rely on somebody to secure their device.”

Because some passengers had trouble with the rear-facing nature of QUANTUM, Next-Stop screens were added to the rear of the vehicles for their benefit.

“It helps to mitigate that issue and it seems to be working well,” Hockman said. “It makes sense that a rider would be more comfortable being able to see what is coming down the line. We have now had them on all the buses since 2020 and the ridership seems to like it.”

According to Hockman, the first QUANTUM system was installed in July of 2019, quickly followed by onsite operational and maintenance training, electronic service manuals for maintenance technicians, and enrollment in the QUANTUM Operator Certification Course offered through the Q’STRAINT Training AQADEMY. Community education for self-securement is largely based on driver instruction, however training videos are broadcast on buses’ MPM screens for additional educational support. 

As of today, QUANTUM and Q’POD are now standard equipment on all new fixed route bus deliveries for Palm Tran.

“Our riders’ comfort is important,” Hockman said. “QUANTUM and Q’POD have helped us make safety accessible for everyone while providing a new level of independence for Palm Tran riders.”