MAKING THE HUMAN FACTOR
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COUNT IN RI" DESIGN
by Martin Hayes Pictures by Harry Roberts
THERE are a few pundits on the public transport scene, either at home or abroad, who would disagree that attracting passengers back to buses is of paramount importance. And proof is now available that British technology is playing a leading part in the battle to do just that.
Last month's exhibition at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory (CM, April 13) showed several of the projects which will undoubtedly spearhead the drive to get city dwellers to leave their cars at home — and travel by bus.
One of the few really new concepts in public transport which will ever be a fully practicable proposition is the Dial-a-Ride system of demand-governed door-to-door transport Development of the system is being backed by Ford of Britain. The company has now evolved a simple computer program which can be adapted to a wide range of situations. Two more towns in Britain will have their own systems by the end of the year.
The TRRL itself is near to perfecting a dual-mode bus capable of operation with and without a driver. The future of this project seems bright in new urban developments — where the provision of the reserved track necessary for automatic operation is easy — because it combines the advantages of rail-like scheduling in high-traffic areas with the flexibility of conventional buses.
Supreme efforts Needless to say it is in actual vehicle developments that most interest is being generated. Supreme efforts are being made in the field of environmental acceptability. Three approaches to pollution control were on show at the TRRL exhibition. An enterprising effort by Rolls-Royce, Calor Gas and Teesside Corporation has led to the development of a Daimler Fleetline with an eight-cylinder RR engine converted to run on LPG. This combines quietness with drastically reduced toxic emissions. Encapsulation of the engine was the method chosen by Metro-Scania (77dBa) and Leyland National (76dBa) to produce quiet buses for London Transport. The largely British designed and constructed MetroScania is shortly to be joined by a double-deck counterpart.
As befits its position as Britain's largest bus manufacturer (and her leading exporter) much of the technical innovation revealed at the TRRL exhibition came from British Leyland. In an obvious attempt to transform the downmarket image of the bus, the corporation has developed a futuristic commuting bus for senior executives, based on the Leyland National. With 21 luxurious seats, the "bus" — if it can still be called that — bristles with electronic gadgetry. Possibly a more practical broadening of the LN's appeal is provided by the first coach version, complete with 48 luxury seats and full-length luggage racks.
But it is Leyland's new double-decker — a mock-up of which was first revealed last month — which is really capturing the limelight. Without doubt the B15 — as it is tentatively called — will be at least as significant for bus operators as the Leyland National. Though it will be several years before the B15 turns a wheel, Leyland men are next week explaining to selected operators some of the design features of the bus. They are understandably cagey about committing themselves to particular components and methods of construction. Too often in the past hurriedly-made changes of plan late in the design process have led to trouble in service.
Attraction the aim The only hard details to emerge from Leyland are that the bus will have a "not less than 200bhp" rear-mounted turbocharged diesel engine, new designs of front and rear suspension, a fullyor semi-automatic gearbox, a passenger capacity of between 89 and 95 (including 20 standees) and will be integrally constructed. Such intriguing points as where, and by whom, the complete vehicle will be constructed, and how much it may cost, must as present remain confidential.
To find out more about the philosophy behind the bus, I have been able to conduct an exclusive interview with Mr Joe McGowan, the man who produced the National design and who is responsible for the B15 project.
Mr McGowan explained that the 815's whole design concept is based upon the overwhelming need of operators to attract passengers back to buses. Investigation of the reasons for the decline of public transport had repeatedly shown that it was the so-called marginal groups who provided the mainstay of operators — in fact, the very young, the old and the disabled. The design of the B15 has thus been formulated with these groups very much in mind.
Much of the work which has gone into this side of the pre-prototype design phase has been carried out by Leyland's human factors engineering department. The company has more experience in this field than any other in the world and has now won a major Government contract in this sphere. One result of this will be that the design work, sponsored entirely by Leyland, for the B15 will now be made available to other manufacturers.
Vital subject Though many may be put off by that "human factors engineering" tag, the subject is a lot more vital to passenger attraction and retention than might at first be supposed.
Much of the work, for instance, has involved filming in slow motion groups of subjects boarding, sitting in and alighting from early B15 mock-ups. Some of the most revealing results were provided by a group of 27 old-age pensioners ranging from 63 to 83 years old. For example, it was found that a significantly greater effort was needed to negotiate a 15in step than a 12in. one. Another point of interest is that sloping handrails at the entrance, but vertical ones at the exit, were easier to use.
If you think this sort of detail is bordering on the ethereal, then it's worth considering that one sixth of the population experience difficulty boarding and alighting from buses. And that one sixth is likely tc be a far higher proportion of a typical btn operator's customers.
Mr McGowan explained that Leyland': Ergomatic truck cab was the first transpon product in which human factors engineerint had been applied outside the aircrafl industry. Since then the science hac advanced by leaps and bounds and it: influence on the LN was high. Even so there were several features on that vehicle whict seem outdated by B15 standards (straps for standees is one item). Most effort on the LN had gone into the driving area, he said, and nine prototypes had been built. It seem: likely that B15 drivers will see many similarities to the National in their cab, Obviously lessons learnt with the LN will be applied to the 815 but slow motion films ol LN drivers had shown that design decisions in the driving compartment had been 90 per cent correct.
I asked Mr McGowan just where the line had to be drawn: it might be possible to design the almost perfect vehicle in human factors terms but could you sell it? He pointed out that ways and means ol improving bus travel for that special one sixth of the population could often br accomplished with little or no increase in cost, providing decisions were taken early enough. There was concrete evidence to show that a surprisingly high number of people did not use public transport simply because of the physical ordeal it imposed. Ordinary passengers would benefit because of the quicker boarding times of their less able brethren and would themselves find using the bus easier.
People packaging Human factors engineering is aimed at "providing the packaging around people' and minimizing all the antifactors: jerks. noise, vibration, high steps and floors. internal movement and poor ride. On this last point, Mr McGowan predicted that the B15's ride would be "dramatically different' but he refused to go into more detail at present.
In the details about the B15 so far available, the effect of human factors engineering is plain for all to see. For example, 95 per cent of males, and 100 pei cent of females will have adequate headroom when standing in the lower saloon, compared with the UK minimum requirement which accommodates only 60 per cent of males and 95 per cent of females. The self-levelling air suspension will keep the first step I2.4in. from the, ground and the second step to the level main floor is 8.5in. Uncompressed, the seat cushions will be 17in + tin. from the floor.
Priorities in the basic design of the B15 are easy to identify: to make it safe and to enable it to improve the quality of life of its passengers and drivers. Mr McGowan revealed that the social pressures on operators were directly responsible for Leyland spending 40 per cent of its design effort in evolving the original BI5 concept. This is certain proof of the changing emphasis of bus operators' and manufacturers' priorities. The goal is passenger attraction at almost any cost.