Whatcom Transit Authority has purchased eight replacement buses, all with small changes for passengers.
Two new versions of the wheelchair securement station are on each new bus. The first two seats on each side of the bus can now individually fold up and make space for people with strollers, walkers and carts. The system has shown to be successful in other agencies like Community Transit in Everett.
Maureen McCarthy of the Public Information Office for WTA explained there are four securement stations on every bus, but new buses replaced two of the stations with the newer version.
“We only replace the buses at the end of their useful life,” McCarthy said. “I think it is very likely that, based on other agencies, the new buses we ordered will have this mix of two of the traditional wheel chair securement and two of the new type.”
Now, bus driver’s don’t need to get close to passengers to help. Instead of having the driver secure the wheelchair user in a four-point securement system, the passenger has the choice to position themselves. Passengers can place themselves backwards against a cushioned back while the driver lowers an arm at the user’s side for them to hold onto.
“The big risk in a bus accident is that people will be thrown forward,” McCarthy said. “Now, they are facing backwards against a padded device and would still be perfectly safe.”
“With all the other students who take the bus, it will also benefit them. It will go by faster and gets them to where they’re going quicker.”
Keith Morris, a driver for WTA for 23 years, demonstrated how the new system works, flipping up the three seats at the front of the bus and lowering the sidebar, creating a space for the wheelchair to sit in seconds.
“I’ve had a couple of passengers in wheelchairs that I’ve used this for, and it was a lot quicker,” Morris said. “Especially getting them off; they’re able to just wheel right out.”
Morris said he has had one Western student use it so far and she liked it, but it’s a little different having to ride backwards on the bus. Morris believes this will be the biggest issue for people as some of them have expressed the feeling of carsickness.
Freshman Ben Hayes uses the buses as often as he can, only starting to use them late this summer. He agreed this change will be safer and quicker.
“It will improve efficiency,” Hayes said. “With all the other students who take the bus, it will also benefit them. It will go by faster and gets them to where they’re going quicker.”
With the change of more chairs being able to flip up, Hayes thinks that will only be helpful depending when they are flipped, as it could make buses more crowded if they don’t get put back after use.