SEATING: Special Transport Solutions

By: Sean Muir


NSW technology could make it easier for coach operators to accommodate disabled passengers

SEATING: Special Transport Solutions
With STS technology, disabled passengers will be hoisted into position in a portable clip-on seat-belted secure coach seat

NSW-based company Special Transport Solutions (STS) has developed technology that could allow coach operators to more easily cater for disabled passengers.

But STS Director, Brendan Lennon says the technology – which has written support from the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) – may be lost if STS is unable to secure government funding.

Lennon says STS has already received a commitment of $1.6 million from private investors, and has signed a development agreement with a large aviation manufacturer in Australia, but the company needs at least $3.2 million to take the product – QuickLock – to market.

"If the government doesn’t get behind us now we are in danger of failing in the face of success and are also in danger of losing the intellectual property developed in Australia, owned in Australia, and that will benefit Australia," Lennon says.

"There is the danger that this technology may fade away if there is not a pick-up by government."

Lennon says STS initially received a verbal funding pledge through the Federal Government’s Commercialisation Australia initiative, but the company is yet to receive any government assistance for the technology.

The technology is hoped to encourage coach companies like Murrays, which recently lost a three-year legal battle for breaching Disability Standards, to make more coaches accessible for disabled passengers.

In March, Australia’s Federal Court ruled that wheelchair user Julia Haraksin was directly discriminated against when she was unable to book a seat on a Murrays coach to travel from Sydney to Canberra in August 2009.

Murrays, which had a fleet of 154 vehicles, did not accept Haraksin’s booking because none of the company’s vehicles were wheelchair accessible.

Lennon says under the Disability Standards, which came into effect in 2002, a large coach that is accessible to disabled passengers is required to have capacity for at least two disabled passengers.

But he says current technology available to coach operators requires the removal of four seats per disabled passenger to accommodate the wheelchair footprint.

This is believed to be partly responsible for stunted compliance with Disability Standards in the coach industry, as the removal of seats results in lost fare revenue.

Lennon says there are also costs to remove and reinstall seats when a disabled passenger has disembarked a coach.

To address the problems, Lennon says STS has developed a product that not only reduces the lost revenue, but is also safer and more dignified for disabled passengers.

"It addresses the issue of equity in that it affords disabled passengers the same level of access and safety afforded able-bodied passengers while protecting the profits of coach operators," Lennon says.

Lennon says STS technology allows conversion of a standard bus coach seat into a removable seat with wheels.

Using the technology, a removable coach seat can be locked into position after a disabled passenger is transferred into the seat outside of the coach and mechanically hoisted up to the coach floor level.

"We just put a set of wheels and a very technical lock-down mechanism that allows that seat to be locked in and removed from the bus without any great education," Lennon says.

Lennon concedes the technology is most suited to passengers with enough mobility to safely transfer from their wheelchairs to the removable coach seats, but says there are still several advantages to the technology.

"From a safety point of view, it affords the disabled passengers the same level of safety that all the other passengers have," Lennon says.

"Wheelchairs aren’t crash safe so when you strap a wheelchair into a bus, if the bus was to crash a wheelchair can break apart.

"So, with the new technology, the disabled passenger is in a standard coach seat, and they can wear a seatbelt.

"They are not separated from the rest of the passengers, as they are not sitting in the middle of what would normally be four coach seats, so their ability to interact with other passengers is improved as well, and in terms of equity that is quite important."

Lennon says the technology should also be more attractive to coach operators, who will not have to remove seats and store them to accommodate disabled passengers. He says this should reduce lost fare revenue.

COMPLIANCE CONCERN

A recently released five-year operation review of Australia’s Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT) identified compliance in the coach industry as an area of concern.

The issues believed to be contributing to poor compliance include concerns regarding safe and dignified boarding and transfer arrangements from wheelchairs to fixed seating, crashworthiness of passengers’ own wheelchairs, availability of sufficiently effective securing mechanisms for the range of passenger wheelchairs in use, and operational difficulties in options involving removal of fixed seating to accommodate passenger wheelchairs.

In a letter of support for STS, Australian Human Rights Commission Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes says the STS technology appears to solve the issues.

"The solution demonstrated by Mr Lennon appears to have considerable promise as a means of addressing each of these concerns and thus of enhancing the ability of the industry to provide accessible services," Innes says.

Meanwhile, Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) Executive Director, Michael Apps has also urged support for the technology.

"The concept developed by Special Transport Solutions has considerable promise as a means of addressing the needs of people who need to use a mobility device and wish to travel by coach and assisting in retaining personal dignity," Apps says in a letter of support to STS.

"I understand that further and successful development of Special Transport Solutions’ initiative may require a degree of material support from relevant areas of government."

Lennon hopes STS can take the technology to market this year.

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