Improper Curbing and Kneeling

Large vehicles with pneumatic brake and suspension systems almost always contain devices which lower the right-front corner (or the entire curb-side) of the bus or motorcoach four to five inches (when properly maintained), significantly lowering the distance for a boarding or alighting passenger between the ground and the bottom step. Yet many drivers who do not pull to the curb also fail to kneel their bus or coach, leading typically to a 14-inch drop to the roadway surface that is difficult for certain types of passengers (elderly, disabled, obese, children) to articulate.

For vehicles not containing such features, many are not designed for safe entry or egress — including irregularly spaced and too-narrow running boards (often poorly maintained such that the non-skid surfaces are worn off) and a lack of coherent handrails, door handles or other gripping devices.

Most of these deficiencies can be overcome with either or both driver assistance (at the entrance/exit door) and/or a purpose-built transportation industry footstool. Yet while assisting passengers on and off the vehicle is the industry standard for motorcoach service, and for those services accommodating elderly or disabled passengers (like paratransit, special education and non-emergency medical service), it is a blurry standard (and not commonly provided) for shuttle services (whose drivers rarely provide it) and rarely provided to passengers of transit, general education school bus or taxi service. Most vulnerable of the latter modes’ passengers are young school bus passengers and elderly or disabled taxi passengers. However, the former’s dexterity and youth, and the low floor and ease of entering and exiting taxis (whose doors are always cantilevered) have limited the number of passengers becoming badly injured when falling out of that type of vehicle, whereas this phenomenon far more commonly produces serious injuries with transit and motorcoach passengers, even though both vehicle types possess “kneeling” features. In simple terms, a young healthy individual is unlikely to be injured when boarding or alighting, without any assistance, from a poorly-designed or equipped vehicle, whereas a vulnerable passenger is likely to be injured when alighting from even a well-designed one if it is not properly operated, and/or passenger assistance is not provided.

For a more in-depth look at this issue as a “safety compromise” induced by tight schedules, see “Failure to Kneel” at Safety Compromises, a project of Transportation Alternatives.