In the six years between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of Americans living with disabilities rose to 12.8%: that is an astonishing number of people (around 41.6 million) that struggle with mobility on a daily basis, either relying on power chairs, wheelchairs that fold, or canes and walkers to get around.
One of the primary challenges these individuals face is transportation. Cars are expensive enough; finding one that can hold and secure a wheelchair forces that price into the clouds, and public transportation -- though many vehicles accommodate wheelchairs -- does not offer enough for everyone who suffers from limited mobility to benefit. However, that may be about to change: the industry's first (and only) medium-duty, fully accessible transit bus 'Spirit of Equess' has passed the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Model Bus Testing Program at Altoona, Pennsylvania."We are proud of the hard work our team put into this project and are pleased with the score it received at Altoona," said Don Roberts, President at ARBOC Specialty Vehicles, LLC.
The FTA Model Bus Testing Program (referred to as "Altoona Testing" based on the location of the main testing center) examines new transit buses on the following performance standards: safety, structural integrity and durability, reliability, performance (including brakes), maintainability, noise, fuel economy, and emissions. Failing just one of these categories makes the bus ineligible for purchase by the FTA and means that it will not see service until they are corrected.
The Spirit was set for a weight of 26,000 lbs to equal a real-life load of seated and standing passengers, and endured seven months of testing in a 10-year simulated, 350,000 mile service life; it passed with flying colors.
It offers the best of both worlds: many of the capabilities of a heavy-duty bus are included, yet it also retains all the benefits of a mid-level vehicle. But just what makes it fully-accessible? The Spirit boasts an air-suspension system that allows the bus to "kneel" 3.5 inches, creating a 1:8 ramp slope. This makes it easy for those with wheelchairs or power scooters to climb aboard, as wheelchair tires don't like steep inclines.
Hopefully, the Spirit of Equess will become a mainstream transportation option; if people of all abilities, mobility aids, and wheelchair tires could use the same bus with ease, living an active lifestyle would become a realistic and affordable possibility.