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When it comes to bus and coach accessibility, much of the focus is on powered ramps and lifts. Yet there remains a useful market for ramps that have to be deployed manually and it is a market that ramp maker Carwood BDS is eagerly exploiting, says managing director, Paul Hemingway.

Independently-run, but majority-owned by automotive parts remanufacturer and distributor Carwood, the Hull-based business employs a number of people who formerly worked for Deans Powered Doors, once based just up the road in Beverley. As a consequence bus entrance and exit doors figure largely in its portfolio: the initials BDS in fact stand for Bus Door Systems.
Burnt Tree Carwood Dawson Qstraint Ventura

At present Carwood BDS has three manual ramps in its line-up, including one designed as a direct replacement for a Deans product, and one designed to appeal to customers in mainland Europe. All three are made from aluminium, with the Deans replacement tipping the scales at a modest 30kg to 35kg.

“Unlike the European model, which sits above the vehicle’s floor, it is positioned under the floor,” says Hemingway. “We’re getting a positive reaction to it from prospective customers, with one firm asking us to quote for supplying 200.

“With all of our products we can design and manufacture to any size required,” he adds.

Hemingway and his colleagues have no plans to rest on their laurels. “We’ll be adding a powered ramp to the range next year, possibly with an eye to the requirements of the London market,” he observes.

It should debut next March.

The ability to offer doors as well as ramps gives the company a wider appeal to operators and its tie-up with Carwood is proving invaluable too. “Some of our customers are their customers and vice versa,” he says.

The Carwood range includes everything from batteries to remanufactured compressors for onboard air-conditioning systems.

Set up in 2009, Carwood BDS is attempting to make headway in a hard-fought market in which Compak and Spanish manufacturer Masats already have a presence. With a UK agent – Air Door Services of Atherstone, Warwickshire – the latter too offers doors and can already supply powered as well as manual ramps, not to mention passenger lifts.

Compak has been busy demonstrating its involvement in world markets with products exhibited recently in both southern and northern hemispheres. The company’s ramps were on show in MAN vehicles at the Johannesburg International Motor Show and at Busworld Kortrijk.

  Compak says it was particularly encouraged by the interest generated in South Africa. “We’re getting involved with an ever-increasing number of contracts for buses being built for South Africa.” says Lee Allen, Compak managing director.

The MAN bus exhibited at Kortrijk is destined for Hong Kong where Compak already has a considerable number of its ramps on buses belonging to all the major operators.

Door manufacturer Ventura also has a range of ramps available that uses  a honeycomb construction to reduce weight whilst providing a thinner profile.

While ramp and lift makers are fighting to lighten their products – the heavier ancillary equipment is, the more fuel the vehicle it is attached to consumes – they are acutely conscious that the products they manufacture still have to be strong enough to cope with ever-heavier, often battery-powered, wheelchairs.

Oldbury, West Midlands based-PLS’ G’Xtra fully-automatic underfloor passenger lift for minibuses has a capacity of 400kg while Ratcliff Palfinger’s internally-mounted RTP lifts – they too are fully-automatic – will hoist loads of either 400kg or 500kg depending on the model specified. Bear in mind that the lift may have to cope with the weight of an attendant as well as the weight of the chair and whoever is sitting in it.

Restraining that additional weight can be an issue once the chair and occupant are onboard points out restraint specialist Unwin. It is an issue the company raised sometime ago, launching a selection of 200kg-capacity rated heavy-duty wheelchair restraints under the Titan banner back in 2009.

More recently the company has opened its own dynamic laboratory for crash tests next door to its Somerset factory.

A £20,000 crash-test dummy and a wheelchair can be secured to a one-tonne sled on a test bed using Unwin products, then smashed into a block of concrete and steel bars at 30mph in line with the requirements of ISO 10542. The rig is fitted with a variety of instruments to record exactly what happens when something goes from 30mph to a complete stop in 0.1 of a second with a force of 20G, and the laboratory boasts a camera that normally films at 1,000 frames a second but can capture images at 36,000 frames a second if required.

The results are externally verified by staff from the Vehicle Certification Agency. They check the facilities and witness tests before producing their reports.

“Changes in legislation mean that we’ve got more existing and potential customers who need sled testing to be carried out, so if people are using our products then we’d like to talk to them about working with us,” says Unwin engineering director, Rob Butcher.

Heavy wheelchairs and their occupants can sometimes struggle to make their way up access ramps, especially if the ramp is slippery and sitting at an acute angle.

Aware of this potential problem, Q’Straint has developed the Q’Winch. As its name suggests it is, quite literally, a powered winch mounted inside the vehicle complete with 5m of webbing wound around a bobbin.

The webbing can be attached to the wheelchair by two tongue-and-buckle or karabiner hooks, and the wheelchair and user can be hauled up the ramp – with one hopes as much dignity as possible – and into the vehicle.

With modest dimensions of 146mm x 146mm x 302mm, the Q’Winch is about as unobtrusive as a winch can be. Controlled by a hand-held console connected by a cable, it provides a jerk-free stop, a jerk-free start, a gradual slow-down for the last phase of movement, and variable speed settings says the company.

Like Unwin, Q’Straint is a prominent wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint specialist. Its current line-up includes the QM3 wheelchair securing system and the QRT range of retractor restraints.

Compliance with ECWTA – European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval – is becoming an increasing area of concern for equipment suppliers as well as bodybuilders and chassis manufacturers. With this in mind, PLS has recently launched a rear bumper step for Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based accessible minibuses with an eye to the requirements of the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) element of ECWTA.

Available for both 1,000mm- and 1,100mm-wide lifts, it bolts directly to the passenger lift cassette without the need for any further modifications. PLS says that it has IVA-compatible steps available for other vehicles.

Q’Straint reports that it is now capable of complying fully with both parts of ISO 10542 which it says is required for full ECWTA compliance, adding that it is providing customers with a consultancy service so that potential Type Approval glitches can be avoided.

Head of operations, Dan Turnbull, says that as well as assisting a number of converters to overcome any difficulties they may have in this area, it has developed a procedure to ensure the correct information is delivered to the relevant approval body. “This should help ensure that ECWTA is achieved without delay,” he states.

Providing drivers and passenger assistants with all the wheelchair restraint equipment they need is pointless if they have little or no idea of how it should be used properly. As a consequence Q’Straint runs day-long three-part training courses at its Whitstable, Kent, European headquarters, at various regional venues and at operator premises that address the correct deployment of wheelchair and occupant restraints.

Topics covered include why restraints are needed, safety legislation, the importance of risk assessments, and Duty of Care obligations. Complementing the MiDAS (Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme) Accessible Vehicle and PATs (Passenger Assistance Training) courses from the Community Transport Association, the course includes practical work as well as theory and ends with a multiple-choice exam with a minimum pass requirement.

“The importance of wheelchair passenger safety cannot be underestimated,” warns a Q’Straint spokesman. “Without the correct deployment of restraint systems in accessible vehicles, wheelchair users can be at risk of injury: and operators liable to prosecution.”