In Part 1 of this three-installment series, I characterized the development of MCI's new ramp-equipped accessible motorcoach (the MCI D45 CRT LE) as a "paradigm shift." While I will expand on why this is so in the third and last installment next month, this installment will overview the most unique features of this remarkable vehicle -- a vehicle whose ultimate potential I feel has not yet been realized.
An examination of the CRT LE's features must begin with a discussion of the significant amount of space carved out of otherwise above-floor seating and under-floor luggage compartments to accommodate this approach to wheelchair accessibility, among other things. But the initial prototype affords us only a glimpse into the almost endless potential for using this vestibule -- far beyond the convertibility of the space to accommodate two wheelchair users, five ambulatory passengers or some combination in between. (Please excuse this author's error in Part 1 of this series in thinking the vehicle could accommodate five wheelchair users.) Yet even as the starting point which the CRT LE represents, its innovative features are noteworthy. Many are almost astonishing for a vehicle deployed in a traditional industry whose vehicles rarely change, from decade to decade, in the most basic ways.
The CRT LE's outstanding new features include:
Not privy to the inner thoughts of MCI's engineers, marketing personnel and decision-makers, it is hard to know what they think they have unleashed with this exotic creature. My hope is that they recognize that every great innovation (the key word being 'every') is just a starting point.
For someone first encountering the CRT LE (which should really be called the CRT RE (although some potential buyers might mistake the "ramp-equipped" for "rear-engine"), the degree of advancement and flexibility are so hard to absorb upon one's initial inspection of the vehicle. It may be harder to see beyond it.
Without handing MCI my own visions for what else could be done with this extraordinary starting point, the third and final installment in this series will explore the directions this company might take in the future. So the MCI CRT 45 LE may not simply be a better solution. It may represent a glimpse into the motorcoach future.
The CTR LE's variations of convertibility, even as a starting point, were impressive. The vestibule could carry two wheelchairs (one rear-facing), while the forward-facing section could convert to two luxurious passenger seats, and at the other end, to three. Thus, with no wheelchairs on board, this coach would, at worse, lose two of its 54 seats. But this loss does not factor in something not initially obvious: It provides an enormous envelope of opportunities for using this huge space for additional and/or other purposes -- opportunities that may be on MCI's drawing board, or perhaps just in the minds of its engineers. (Many, including some important ones, lie in mine).
For some people, some things are never enough. One member of the Access Committee commented that this coach's wheelchair users would not get to ride with the rest of the passengers. This obscure notion had little merit in my opinion. Far more important to me was the fact that, riding so much lower in the coach than the other passengers, the wheelchair users in this compartment will received a far smoother ride: The lower the center-of-gravity, the lesser the lateral sway, and the greater comfort below the vehicle's "un-sprung weight." Otherwise, the ADA's institutional spirit of "separate but equal" has effectively been replaced with "separate but better." Frankly, no one conceived of such a concept during the drafting of the ADA. Yet MCI managed to create it.
The handful of photos surrounding this text barely scratch the surface. One must spend some time inside this module to grasp not only its extraordinary ingenuity, but a conceptual use of space, mechanics, movement and convertibility I had never before seen in any public transportation vehicle in my entire career. Yet from the outside, the coach was almost indistinguishable from any other coach on the landscape (other than from the presence of a middle door).
Were I a betting man, the last place I would have looked for innovation would have been MCI. A traditional backbone OEM, MCIs were know and valued mostly for their legendary durability: With a couple of engine changes, and top-notch maintenance, one could squeeze a couple million miles out of one of these workhorses. Stylistically, I cared little about some of MCI's exotic features, like the rock-climbing-oriented handrails or the J4500's spiral stepwell and trapezoidal step treads (which the D45 CRT LE also has). In contrast, the D45 CRT LE represents an explosion of new thought, the solution to a capacity issue that had previously eluded the industry (solvable only with a coach that would seem to take forever to load or unload a wheelchair user), a breakthrough in the ability to capture a huge and growing yet largely untapped market, and a vehicle capable of blasting away the last frontier of travel inequality for a deserving portion of our population whose travel by motorcoach had thus far been marginalized by a profound lack of innovation, if not by an almost total absence of interest.
To me, a veteran of European bus design efforts decades ago, -- the most impressive aspect of the D45 CRT LE is not even its accomplishments. What I saw in the prototype was only a starting point. The potential for using this huge space now capable of carrying two wheelchair users and other combinations of passengers was so open-ended that it almost dwarfed my appreciation for what has already been accomplished. The vast size of this compartment, despite comprising a tradeoff for some rarely-needed luggage space, lends itself to a parade of other usages that seem almost endless.
I have no intention of volunteering design improvements and visions of further adaptability to this OEM or any other. Facing what has already been accomplished, such notions may even seem pompous. But one way or another, great starting points cannot help but stimulate further thinking. I do not think we have seen the full potential of what MCI has unleashed into our sector of the passenger transportation industry. In the next installment, I will try my best to explore the potential which this inaugural vehicle suggests will likely be vast and full of surprises.
Ned Einstein is the President of Transportation Alternatives, a passenger transportation and automotive consortium engaged in consulting and forensic accident investigation and analysis (more than 600 cases). Specializes in elderly, disabled, schoolchildren. Mr. Einstein has been qualified as an Expert Witness in accident analysis, testimony and mediation in vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving transit, paratransit, schoolbus, motorcoach, special education, non-emergency medical transportation, taxi, shuttle, child transport systems and services...
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