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Focus On...Transportation

October 1, 2005
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What to Consider When Buying a Bus by Shane Terblanche
focuson Transportation

What to consider when buying a bus

Shane Terblanche writes that insisting on certain specifications can enhance residents' use and enjoyment Choosing the right vehicle with the right features can help your residents maintain their physical, mental, and psychological well-being. Providing residents with regular trips-whether day outings or short trips to the mall-helps them remain active, alert, and involved. However, many residents' physical conditions make traveling difficult. Poorly designed vehicles can increase this difficulty. By paying attention to the details of the vehicle you buy, you can remove many of the impediments to your residents' travel.

Bus Interiors
Color-blind people have difficulty distinguishing between greens, blues, and browns-colors often used in bus interiors-and people with poor vision have trouble distinguishing between dark colors. Bright, contrasting colors, especially those in the yellow-red-orange spectrum, can compensate for diminished depth perception. Also, it helps to choose colors for seat backs that contrast with the color of the floor. This allows passengers to better find grip points to minimize falls.

The type of seating also can affect safety. For instance, many bus operators prefer plush seating to smooth seating. The reason: Smooth seating has a lower friction coefficient, increasing the chances that a passenger will slide off the seat in the event of a sudden shift in bus momentum. The drawback to plush seating is that the higher friction coefficient also makes it harder for individuals to transfer from wheelchairs to seats. If you do choose cloth seat covers rather than vinyl ones, make sure the fabric is stain resistant.

Also, consider having seat belts installed. They are especially helpful in preventing injuries to passengers with balance problems, slow reaction times, or an inability to brace themselves.

Low-backed and high-backed seats offer a variety of advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, high-backed seats are more comfortable and offer grips for passengers moving through the bus, but they limit the driver's view of passengers and limit passengers' view of oncoming traffic, preventing them from anticipating a sudden stop. On the other hand, while low-backed seats provide better viewing for all aboard, they offer less support for the back and head.

It's also important to prevent slips and falls. This begins with the floor material. Make sure it is a nonskid type, such as an artificial rubber flooring with ribbing. Linoleum and indoor-outdoor carpeting can become dangerous when wet, especially for those using assistive devices, and therefore should be avoided.

Special care is required to prevent falls during boarding and exiting. Studies show that 6 to 8% of all noncollision accidents involve boarding or exiting passengers. With older passengers, boarding and exiting pose even greater challenges.

Handicapped individuals may need the assistance of a wheelchair lift, and some older passengers simply cannot climb the bus steps. Lifts can make residents in wheelchairs self-conscious, however. The passenger knows that someone has to lower the lift for him, help him board the lift, and then raise it. It is helpful to have a specially trained staff person to work with the wheelchair-bound resident. Also, be aware that accommodating several wheelchairs takes time, and in inclement weather this can cause discomfort for passengers. Make sure the lift is well maintained to avoid malfunctions that can leave someone stranded several feet off the ground.

Low-Floor Buses
Specially designed low-floor shuttle buses are a recent innovation that addresses the boarding and exiting needs of the elderly or disabled. For example, two bus manufacturers, Glaval Corporation of Elkhart, Indiana, and StarTrans of Goshen, Indiana, have introduced shuttle buses built on a specially engineered low-floor chassis from Workhorse Custom Chassis-the first chassis engineered specifically for smaller buses manufactured for the shuttle market. Depending on size and seating configuration, these buses can seat 25 to 30 passengers, including space for wheelchair tie-downs.

These vehicles allow passengers to ride a little more than a foot off the ground. This enables even those in wheelchairs or those using walkers to board and exit via a slightly sloped ramp. This ramp eliminates steps and the problems they pose for older riders.

Service and Warranty
Another prime consideration is how the vehicle will be serviced. The bus industry differs from the automotive industry in that it does not have a single, all-encompassing warranty plan. The chassis, coach, alternator, air conditioner, and tires all have separate warranties in addition to the standard vehicle warranties. So, make sure you purchase your bus from a dealer who can service the entire vehicle or locate reliable local providers.

Facilities that own buses should keep a regular maintenance schedule. With proper maintenance, you can expect a well-engineered and well-built bus to meet or exceed its projected lifecycle.

By paying close attention to all these details, LTC facilities can be assured that they are buying the right bus for the safety and satisfaction of their residents.