Buffalo is home to an incubator that is allowing people with disabilities to test out the real life workings of a full-scale, 40′ public bus replica. Many modes of public transportation, as well as buildings, are designed without being tested by all of the people who will ultimately utilize them. In the case of the replica bus, being housed in a temporary structure at the University at Buffalo’s South Campus, researchers are able to see firsthand how the participants interact with their surrounds, and are able to adjust the bus’s features accordingly.
These response tests have been underway for five years at the UB Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center). As the ongoing studies continue, researchers have already been able to identify a number of solution to the problems that have previously existed, including:
Creating a continuous handrail that goes from the front entrance of the bus to the fare box, which will help blind and visually impaired passengers locate the device.
Using smart cards that you can simply tap against a card reader to improve boarding speed and convenience for all riders, especially those with poor motor control and those with visual impairments.
Enabling mid-vehicle boarding for wheelchair users; this would enable faster boarding, as boarding in front requires navigating wheelchairs through a difficult turn and narrower spaces between the front wheel wells.
The research team used motion sensors and video recordings to study areas where volunteers experienced difficulties.
Recommendations have already been relayed to Buffalo’s public transit system, resulting in some of the improvements adapted by the NFTA, including:
“Placing a metal bumper on the floor beside the driver’s seat to prevent mobility devices from running into uneven edges and getting stuck, and adding another bumper by the front doors to direct mobility devices onto the bus ramp while disembarking.”
Obviously, without the help of disabled volunteers, who board, disembark, pay fares and get seated on the indoor test vehicle, there would be only real life trial and error to go by. “While this may not sound like a radical concept, many features of transit fleets meant to accommodate people with special needs are put into production without being adequately tested,” said Jordana Maisel, IDeA Center director of outreach and policy studies. “The same goes for buildings and public spaces.”
Now, the question that I am posing is: Once the buses are outfitted with the best assist mechanisms to guide people with disabilities, when are we going to come up with solutions for those who need to get to and from the buses in the wintertime? I have yet to see a sidewalk fully cleared of snow, let alone a crosswalk that was not full of snowy sludge. Access points surrounding bus shelters, as well as routes leading to the shelters, must be cleared of snow, ice and pools of ice sludge. I would think that this would be an excellent opportunity to incorporate heated sidewalks and crosswalks into the infrastructure surrounding public transport loading and loading areas. It’s all well and good to have buses that are designed to allow for ease of mobility, but if a passenger has a hard time getting to the bus to begin with, then there’s an entirely different problem that must be dealt with.
Additional NIDRR grant funding has been provided as a means to continue on with the studies – studies that do include research on sidewalk improvements. I can only hope that there is an added emphasis put on what appears to be a tertiary issue.