Wheelchairs take front seat

An award-winning design by a group of engineering students at Queen’s University Belfast could help both wheelchair users and bus companies.

An award-winning design by a group of mechanical and aerospace engineering students at Queen’s University Belfast could help wheelchair users and bus companies.

The so-called TranStow team has won the top prize of £2,000 in the Royal Academy of Engineering Student Design Poster Competition for their Retract-a-Seat, a device intended to make travelling on high-floor buses easier for wheelchair users.

Currently, wheelchair users need to give bus companies 24 hours’ notice before travelling on high-floor buses. During this time, four bus seats are removed to create the legally required space for the wheelchair.

The system deters many from taking public transport as they don’t always know they need to travel one day in advance. It also means the bus company cannot use the four seats as they are removed for the rest of the day.

But TranStow has come up with an idea that means a double seat retracts to make room for the wheelchair. The bases of two seats flip up, allowing a hatch to be opened while the Retract-a-Seat folds backwards into a compartment below the floor. The hatch is then lowered and locked into position to create a surface on which to park the wheelchair.

The Retract-a-Seat works in partnership with a wheelchair lift, allowing the user to enter through a separate side door. The whole process takes just one minute and can be operated by one member of staff.

The students hope their design will be soon become a reality on buses.

Retract-a-Seat designersDylan Carleton, Robert Best, Chris Turner, David Shanks, John Orr and Caroline Newe