King County Metro’s upcoming RapidRide B Line will feature a passive restraint system that simplifies boarding for wheelchair and mobility device users, resulting in a faster ride for all users. As Metro describes, “users simply wheel into place without operator assistance, greatly speeding up boarding time.” Each RapidRide B Line bus will have two spaces for users of mobility devices: one passive restraint and one standard forward-facing with securement.
How does a passive restraint system work? The wheelchair user backs into a cushion and sets the brake. A stanchion or a foldable armrest prevents the wheelchair from tipping over and provides additional support. This allows rapid boarding and deboarding of disabled transit users in mobility devices i.e. no more complicated straps and belts. Passive restraint systems on transit buses are widely used in Canada and Europe and are beginning to be used on US BRT systems, like Community Transit’s Swift.
Metro has been evaluating the passive restraint system for RapidRide since early last year. That didn’t give Metro enough time to evaluate the feature and get it installed on A Line buses. “The plan is that if all is well on the B Line buses, we will retrofit the A Line buses”, said Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke. “We did have some structural features put on the A Line buses when manufactured so that they could be retrofitted.” There is potential that the feature be expanded system-wide, “although no specific plans have been made at this time.”
Several members of the Accessible Services Advisory Committee assisted Metro with evaluation of the passive restraint prototype (seen in photo above). They have been supportive of the feature. Experience in other cities like Vancouver BC suggests that after an initial learning period, passengers prefer passive restraint.
A good background document about the history and implementation of passive restraint systems is TCRP Synthesis 50: Use of Rear-Facing Position for Common Wheelchairs on Transit Buses.