TRANSIT together with several associations of physically-challenged individuals were invited to RapidKL’s depot in Lembah Subang to inspect on RapidKL’s spanking new OKU-friendly bus prototype. This is basically a bus with a flat low floor between the front entrance and rear exit doors and two steps in the aisle leading to a raised section behind the rear door. The rear door was ahead of the rear axle, near the middle of the bus.
The 12-m Scania stepless entry bus featured several substantial improvements over the current rolling-stocks, such as (ranked by the degree of importance):
1. Kneeling function (as shown by the above photo) – Finally! Phew… The entrance/exit side of the bus has the capability to kneel so that the gap between the bus floor and the tarmac/sidewalk/bus halt area can be significantly reduced. This reduces the angle of the wheelchair ramp, which makes boarding easier. Plus it makes boarding for seniors and children easier, speedier and breezier.
2. Bus stop announcements via two screen displays and speakers – Great job! At a push of a button, the bus driver can easily alert on board passengers upon approaching the upcoming bus stop. This eliminates the very typical commuter anxiety that they might accidentally skip their intended stop.
As RapidKL is streamlining its bus routes together with the stops (codified just like they did with the LRTs and the monorail), the names of stops announced on board must exactly reflect the same as the names of stops that RapidKL plans to publicize in its upcoming brochures (which, instead of mere up-and-down arrows with arbitrarily-assigned names of bus stops that can be very unfamiliar to even the locals, should juxtapose the routes with the conceptual and geographical maps of the areas covered, just like the LRT maps are designed).
3. ‘Grandma’ or ‘Mother-and-Child’ seats above the front wheel arches – Awesome family-oriented incentive. But we wonder why the edges of the seats facing the gangway have to fitted with permanently-fixed metal hand bars. Fold-able plastic bars should do the job, as each seat can fit two adult passengers (albeit uncomfortably with one of the passengers’ feet dangling, but then it’s better than two strangers being ‘squared’ to each other by the side metal bar).
4. Gradual floor incline – The seats of the raised floor section behind the rear wheels do not really pose any discomfort to the seated passengers, unlike seats of the current RapidKL stepless and one-step buses, which the sitting passengers’ leg areas on the raised floor sections were protruded by the bulging rear wheel arches and uneven floor levels.
There should be vertical bars that connect the roof railings straight to the chair handles at the back of the bus, to support the standing passengers from losing balance. Hard seats are not comfy. If possible, headrests would be great. Newer Nadi Putra buses in Putrajaya have slim seats with head rests that do not obstruct other passengers’ view. These chairs can have handles at their sides for standing passengers.
5. Leaf doors at the rear entrance – Other than facilitating clearance for the wheelchair ramp to be manually flipped over towards the pedestrian path outside the bus, this ensures passengers who might be pushed to the doorways do not get crushed by the closing doors.
6. Bright yellow ‘No standing area’ demarcation at doorways and steps – In the US, Federal Law prohibits standing beyond the yellow line, usually marked at the entrances of the gangway (which should start right behind the driver’s seat). Still, in the absence of such law here, we commend RapidKL for highlighting this very essential safety precaution.
7. Special stop button and announcement for wheelchair users – This can alert the bus driver to prepare to assist or wait for the wheelchair user to disembark properly.
8. Emergency windows with hammers – Emergency doors can be hazardous, as evident in 2007 RapidPenang incident. The special hammers, which are located between well-distanced window frames, are safer alternatives for bus passengers. Since the fuel tanks are within the top areas of the bulging front wheel arches, presence of such windows at the middle and the rear makes a lot of sense.
Singapore has replaced much of its old bus fleet with the Scania K230UB buses. Believe it or not, there is even a Facebook account, calling Singaporeans to push the government to get rid of the buses! It’s good if RapidKL can look on the grouses of Singaporean commuters when SBS introduced the Scania K230UB buses.
Some complained that the ride quality is harsh. Maybe RapidKL can call random car users (potential commuters who, for some reasons, avoid buses) for a test ride for the bus in urban speed? RapidKL can learn from New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority‘s attempt to gauge users’ feedback on what kind of buses users are likely to fall in love with.
As the Scania chasis is designed for city use (urban, as denoted by the letter U in the bus model name), it is imperative for RapidKL and other bus operators to look at ways to make intercity buses (that operate at high speed along expressways, such as the KL-Putrajaya and KL-Klang routes) friendlier to the OKU users. Wheelchair-friendly buses can be that of high floor buses with ramps, such as the National Express’ Levante coach.
With the invent of clever technology such as the Britain’s magic seats, operators do not even have to worry of having their revenues chopped off by the provision of wheelchair-friendly seats. Plus, the standardization of seat belts make safe journeys for everyone as well! SPAD should state the blueprint, (yet-to-be-set-up) local transit authorities should enforce the implementation, and the current operators should make necessary modifications to meet the enforced standards.
The improvements seen at the RapidKL Depot on Saturday even exceed the specifications used by developed nations with established guidelines and legislation for the provision of disable-friendly facilities. We hope that not only our OKU friends, but our golden age neighbours and friends will benefit from the service soon.
We also hope that SPAD will push for provision of local transit authorities, which will yield greater power to enforce transit sidewalks, facilities and platforms that are friendlier to the physically-challenged.
The representatives from the OKU associations are generally pleased with the improvements. The bus manufacturer representative acknowledges that amendments based on user inputs at the early stage will not cause the cost to stray from that of the original bus design. This shows that RapidKL has learned its lessons well: engagement and consultation rarely fail.
Of course we would like to see other consideration as to why RapidKL chose Scania instead of other bus manufaturers, such as the Mercedes OC500LE or MAN NL or Volvo B7RLE , but then at least the process of choosing the Scania K230UB is a vast improvement over RapidKL’s previous choices of the poorly-performing China-made buses.
Hats off to Prasarana and RapidKL for their efforts!