TheRide launches test phase of autonomous wheelchair technology on Ann Arbor buses

Q'Straint securements tested by riders, installed on 10 buses

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

Photo: Meredith Bruckner

ANN ARBOR - On Tuesday afternoon, TheRide and Q'Straint, a wheelchair passenger safety solutions company, held an event at University of Michigan's Mcity for riders with mobility devices to test the new Quantum wheelchair securement.

Quantum is a virtually autonomous wheelchair restraint that allows riders to independently secure their wheelchairs on public buses without assistance from drivers.

TheRide was awarded $187,000 in September 2018 as part of the Michigan Mobility Challenge from the Michigan Department of Transportation to test technology that would make transport easier for those with disabilities, the elderly and veterans.

Senior regional manager at Q'Straint, Michael Laidlaw, said the product took roughly eight years to develop and has been on the market for three. It is already being tested on major transport operators like Indianapolis' IndyGo and Minneapolis-Saint Paul's Metro Transit.

The Quantum autonomous securement installed on an AAATA bus (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)


"There are some naysayers, but like almost all technology, your 18- to 35-year-olds -- they're in immediately," said Laidlaw. 

He explained that passengers age 35 to 55 tend to be more hesitant about adopting the new technology. But once they learn the benefits and test it out, they often come around.

"It brings a higher level of safety, integrity and independence because they’re securing themselves without the operator being involved, and not to mention quicker boarding and deboarding times," said Laidlaw. "As people grasp it and understand it and after they secure themselves independently one time, that’s it. It’s a done deal."

Though sometimes riders don't like the idea of riding rear-facing, Laidlaw said it's much safer for the rider. "The other side of this industry, if you look at it, infants in rear-facing car seats survive accidents that their parents and siblings do not. Flight attendants ride rear-facing -- the safest seats on airplanes."

Debbie Poster tests the Quantum automatic rear-facing securement station on March 26, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)


Debbie Poster has lived in Ann Arbor since 1977 and has been using public transportation with a wheelchair for many years. She was one of the first riders in the area to test the new technology.

"I wanted to get firsthand experience with the Quantum technology on the bus," said Poster. "I think it will be awesome for the independence of the rider. It’s actually quite easy to use. You just have to drive in and push a button and you’re done."

She thinks it will be quick to catch on in Ann Arbor.

"Once the word gets out, the fact that you don’t need a driver to help you strap down is quite a plus. It’s actually pretty safe and it holds you very securely," Poster said.

Travel trainer for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority Tracy Byrd speaks with riders during a test drive at University of Michigan's Mcity on March 26, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

The test phase for Quantum on TheRide will last for nine months, and 10 buses will be retrofitted with the technology. After six months, the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute will be conducting evaluations alongside surveys by TheRide of focus groups and members of its maintenance technician crew.

"They will be looking at everything from user comfort to ease of use to feasibility," said Planning and Innovation Project Lead at TheRide Julia Roberts. "They will be doing surveys of passengers and surveys of motor coach operators. If it’s a successful pilot, we will be purchasing this on every new bus moving forward. Otherwise, we’ll go back to the Q'Pods."

An AAATA bus simulates deboarding of passengers with mobility devices at University of Michigan's Mcity on March 26, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

Quantum project manager at TheRide Julia Roberts and senior regional manager at Q'Straint Michael Laidlaw accompany a passenger during a test ride at University of Michigan's Mcity on March 26, 2019 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

As for the technology making its way into the Ann Arbor market, Roberts said she is cautiously optimistic.

"I think Ann Arbor is always willing to try new things as long as we do them thoughtfully. And so that’s what we’re trying to do here. It’s been tried in other states, but this is the first time a large transit agency in Michigan has tried it and so we’re really looking to make this the future for Michigan."

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