Mercedes-Benz Vans and GO GEORGE have teamed up to meet the transport needs of people with disabilities. COLETTE FRANSOLET investigates.
Minibus taxis provide the main means of transport for the majority of people in South Africa, but, for anyone with a disability, these vehicles have been almost impossible to access, chiefly because of the traditionally high level of the vehicles’ floor.
However, times are changing and so is the public transport system. Thanks to persistent universal access (UA) activists, good technical advice on universal design (UD) and extensive support from within the Municipality of George, the GO GEORGE bus service, as part of the George Integrated Public Transport Network (GIPTN), has begun operating the first accessible public transport minibuses.
After input from the GIPTN team, a fleet of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter minibuses were fitted with numerous features to ensure equitable service provision and public transport to all passengers.
Says Nicolette Lambrechts: vice-president of Mercedes-Benz Vans Southern Africa: “As Mercedes-Benz Vans, we take pride in being in constant touch with our customers. From this, we know that the configuration of a vehicle has great significance when it comes to responding to specific requirements of a person with limited mobility. We know that – as part of the GO GEORGE integrated public transport system – there are passengers who utilise wheelchairs and other mobility aids. The Sprinter is the perfect vehicle for such custom modifications, and this is one of the many reasons the City of George has our vehicles in its fleet.”
These modifications include a hoist that is deployable from the side sliding door, a designated accessible seating area with seatbelts from both the left and right hand sides, grab rails within the vehicles which are colour contrasting, two priority seats in the front of the passenger seating area, internal LED signage to indicate the next stop, floor markings to indicate the passage down the centre of the vehicle, colour-contrasting nosing on the steps at the entrance, as well as LED signage externally to indicate the destination of the vehicle while en route.
The features and adaptations within the vehicles were installed and tested with the assistance of various groups of stakeholders in the municipal area, who were all excited to be involved in the development of the minibuses for GO GEORGE. Even with all the fittings and alterations to the vehicles to enable access for people with different categories of needs, they are still able to load 15 seated passengers, as per the loading restrictions of the original vehicles, or 13 seated passengers plus one wheelchair.
The hydraulic hoist that has been fitted to the side sliding door of the minibus is operational from the driver’s seat via a remote device. The hoist has audio and visual warnings when being deployed, and can be lowered to road level when necessary, which allows the vehicle to collect and drop off passengers, including people with functional mobility limitations, at both conventional bus stops and also in rural areas, where no bus stops exist. The front door has been fitted with a mechanically operated door to allow front access by removing the front passenger seat.
Ticketing for GO GEORGE is based on a paper ticket system, but plans are in progress to develop smart card technology.
The progress made by George Municipality and Mercedes-Benz Vans to achieve accessible minibuses is revolutionary. The developments demonstrate commitment to equity and equality for all passengers. And, most importantly, it shows that the application of UD principles as well as user consultation and understanding are vital for the rollout of successful public transport projects.
Sprinting to the top of the sales charts
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is an icon of the van industry; it is to vans what Coco Chanel is to fashion.
It’s been turning heads and setting new standards since 1995, when it made its debut. Remarkably at the time, it was the first van to be fitted as standard with disc brakes on both front and rear wheels, as well as with the ABS anti-lock braking system. Not surprisingly, international motoring journalists were so impressed they voted the Sprinter the “Van of the Year 1995”.
Just over two decades later, the Sprinter is still a true pioneer. For instance, it was the first van in its class to be made available with engines that meet the Euro 6 emissions standard, proving that even the big boys on the road can be environmentally friendly and economical. Despite the engines on offer in South Africa adhering to Euro 5 emissions standards – due to the unavailability of appropriate fuel – the Sprinter still boasts operating the cleanest engine in the large van segment.
But it is not just thanks to its frugal fuel consumption that the new van is top of the class in the large van segment, which the vehicle’s distant ancestor once defined as the “Sprinter class”. It also sets standards with respect to safety, loaded with various assistance systems such as Collision Prevention Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist.
It’s also top of its class when it comes to servicing costs – because the Sprinter comes standard with the CharterWay Service BestBasic service plan, yet another industry first.
“The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a market leader in its segment due to its high levels of safety, impressively economical engines and unsurpassed innovations. With the CharterWay Service BestBasic five-year/105 000 km service plan, we are ensuring it remains in the lead,” says Nicolette Lambrechts, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz Vans Southern Africa.
As an all-inclusive service plan package, the CharterWay Service BestBasic plan covers all items prescribed by the Mercedes-Benz service schedule for the stipulated mileage and/or period of the contract.