Safety and Liability. Part 1: The MCI D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach

A Paradigm Shift in Motorcoach Accessibility Part 1: The MCI D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach As an urban planner by background, there are certain clichés I have grown to loath. Amongmy least favorite is the phrase “paradigm shift.” This is because few things in the transportation field ever comprise a paradigm shift. Among the true exceptions were the 45-foot-long coach, the proliferation of double-deckers, Megabus pricing and the advances in super-clean diesel engines. Autonomous coaches seem decades away (even while exploding on the scene in Europe). Otherwise, nothing else close to a paradigm shift in this traditional industry comes to mind. Yet for every rule there is an exception, if only occasionally. I came upon one recently when, the afternoon before it was unveiled on the first morning of the recent APTA trade show, the MCI D45 CRT LE was introduced to members of the APTA Access Committee, the ADA-oriented com- mittee focusing almost exclusively on fixed route transit and paratransit services. I believe the last time a motorcoach discus- sion came up at an Access Committee meeting was in 2001, when the ADA's requirement for accessible vehicles was extended to motorcoaches. I doubt this issue received two minutes of discussion. On October 7, 2017, when the principal speaker at the Access Committee meeting began talking about the D45 CRT LE, I won- dered what he was even doing there, much less what he would be talking about. But I soon found out. Slugs and Laggards Every new motorcoach since 2001 was supposed to be wheelchair accessible. While compliance may have materialized, rider- ship levels hardly seemed to justify the requirement. For eight years now, I have ridden on anMCI motorcoach twice a week, between my Manhattan office and my weekend "country home/office" in the Lower Hudson Valley. During these nearly 800 trips, I have never once seen a wheel- chair user on board. I attributed this vacancy mostly to the loading and unloading time of a typical motorcoachwith a rear, "passive" lift. Before the lift could even be deployed, multiple passengers would have to change seats, fold-down seats would have to folded up, the lift platform would have to be un- stowed and lowered, the wheelchair and its occupant would have to be placed on the platform and raised to the floor level, the chair would have to be pulled onto the floor surface and positioned in the securement area, and finally some driver who may have performed this procedure once in a blue moon would have to secure the chair at four wheel positions and attach a three-point securement system to its occupant, among other subtleties. By the time this marathon was over, even the most liberal-minded of the coach's harried commuters would be restless, if not resentful. The poor wheel- chair occupant would feel like a pariah, per- haps feeling some need to apologize for his or her intrusion. With this level of usage inmind, my first thought was, "What can MCI possibly be thinking about?" I later learned that MCI has been thinking a lot. This coach reflected four years of development. Imagine the invest- ment. Why would a conventional company in a traditional market spend its time and money on this? With its Buy-America monopoly with federally-funded transit agencies, why would a company which already owned most of the commuter/express market make such a decision? During an extended discussionwithMCI representatives at the following day's trade show, I learned that the MCI D45 CRT LE was actually designed specifically for the commuter/express sector of the market. I also learned that all those wheelchair users I never saw aboard a motorcoach were not bedridden or phantoms. They were whom the transit folk used to refer to as "latent demand." In effect, the difficulty and time- consuming act of boarding and alighting, the infrequency of usage (even while the securement area was covered with fully- usable fold-down seats), andwhat I will coin as the "pariah effect" likely suppressedwhat was otherwise a viable market. Despite almost four decades dealingwith disabled public transportation services, I had barely given this a thought. Fortunately for these individuals, and for the industry as a whole, plenty of folks at MCI had appar- ently given these issues a great deal of thought. That they did something breath- taking as a consequence is what makes this story so appealing, and MCI's contribution to the industry so significant. I was also reminded that the elderly population – already 60 percent of most motorcoach passengers (although these figures are heavily affected by ridership on charter and tour services) – in this coun- 34 • National Bus Trader / December, 2017 Safety and Liability by Ned Einstein