New app for train travellers

A train is in the station and people are on the platform waiting to get on.People who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) can now get help when travelling on ScotRail.  When a deaf customer needs help, rail staff can open an app that uses video call. The customer signs to an interpreter who immediately signs back.  The InterpreterNow app will give more confidence to travellers who use BSL. The more pleasing aspect of this story is that ScotRail is showing commitment to inclusion. For people who are hard of hearing, which is a significant portion of the population, just improving the quality of announcements would be a great help – or even having announcements. 

A related app by Google, Live Transcribe, is in its early release phase.  You can download it and give feedback before the design is finalised. This could be useful in noisy situations for people who have difficulty hearing, such as train stations, busy streets and noisy cafes. These types of app often need adjustment for different accents.

Editor’s note: This is a good app for people with good hearing. I’ve downloaded the Live Transcribe app for my phone. It should help for the odd occasion when I’ve seen a deaf person in the street needing help with something. It will be better than gestures and facial expression. 

Driverless Cars and Accessibility

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless cars will be about passengers not drivers. Although a subtle difference, it focuses thought on users as passengers rather than drivers. And this is important because there will be more diversity of users than there are currently drivers. But this raises other issues.

When it comes to assistance it is usually the driver that helps riders with disabilities with getting in and out, and pointing them in the right direction. An article from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues and more in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues.

“A “fully accessible” and “fully automated” vehicle must address challenges beyond the purview of the vehicle, extending into transportation infrastructure. For instance, for individuals with disabilities to – in practice – independently utilize an autonomous vehicle, problems associated with door-to-door wayfinding, signage, and street-side pick-up/drop-off must also be dealt with. For those who face physical barriers, such as those with mobility or vision impairments, wayfinding around obstacles in the built environment to rendezvous with vehicles or to arrive to at transit/taxi stops will still be a
challenge.”

The report concluded that because of the magnitude of this demand, there is a good case for avoiding complicated and expensive retrofitting for accessibility.

Can AI make air travel more convenient?

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seats Artifical Intelligence (AI) has the potential to solve some difficult problems. One of these is the many inconveniences of air travel – the security checks, waiting at the gate, and the speed at which passengers board. An interesting article on FastCo website brings us up to date with what is emerging, and what we can expect in the future for air travel. The article covers problems with boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour. How this will support inclusive travel and tourism is something still to be discussed in these articles. However, often mentioned are issues of privacy, potential for abuse, and algorithms based on prevailing societal biases, such as, racism, sexism, and ageism, among others. 

Mobility as a Service

Part of the front cover of the discussion paper.Public policy on transportation is desperately trying to keep up with the technology. We are looking at a shift from personally owned vehicles to mobility consumed as a service. This already happening as younger generations are choosing ride-share systems rather than car ownership. But will future mobility services be inclusive of people regardless of income, ethnic background, age or disability? 

AARP Public Policy Institute in the US has looked closely at the issues in an attempt to stay ahead of the policy curve. Their discussion paper argues that the current disruption offers an unprecedented opportunity to expand mobility for everyone. “If implemented fully and thoughtfully, Universal Mobility as a Service has the potential to lead to a more equitable transportation system, where tens of millions of non-drivers are able to more fully participate in the economic, social and civic life of their communities”. The paper rightly points out that it can’t be universal without Universal Design from vehicle design through to customer interaction. There is a video with an overview on the main Future of Transportation page

Public transportation systems are also discussed, as well as serving rural communities and other policy issues. There is lots to digest in this comprehensive discussion paper. The title of the report is Universal Mobility as a Service: A bold vision for harnessing the opportunity of disruption.  

Older people like self driving vehicles

Graphic from the paper showing the elements people would think about when planning a journey with an autonomous vehicle.A series of workshops with older people in UK revealed they are likely to welcome autonomous vehicles. The workshops also gave participants time to think about some of the implications, both negative and positive.  Accessibility was a key factor. Declining vision and hearing, as well as dexterity issues such as arthritis, were mentioned in relation to touch screens. Being able to stop for a toilet, room for a pet and for shopping or luggage, and where to leave the vehicle at the end of the trip were factors that designers need to consider. There’s good information about older people and their reasons for travel, and how autonomous vehicles might enhance their ability to get out and about and socialise.

The title of the paper is, Finding from Workshops held with Older People considering participating in Connected Autonomous Vehicle trials. It also contains information about the five levels of autonomy of vehicles. The workshops are part of a larger project, Flourish, a multi-sector collaboration.

See also Lifelong Mobility with Automation. 

Editor’s note: Too many people are thinking about drivers and self-driving vehicles when in fact, fully automated vehicles are self-passenger-ing. That is, no-one is driving, so everyone is a passenger. 

The graphic from the article shows factors older people thought about when making a journey: toilets, luggage space, route choice, refuelling, journey time, leaving vehicle at destination, and road conditions.

What drivers’ can’t see on the road

A red and white circular sign with a 20 speed limit showing.Here’s a call to traffic planners. A group in the UK is calling for slower speed limits on roads to help reduce pedestrian accidents.They list all the conditions where slower speeds could make a difference and allow people to cross the road safely. Drivers can’t tell if someone has anxiety, dementia, post traumatic stress or sleep disorder. Traffic can make them feel vulnerable and fearful. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with low vision are also at risk of accidents. Pregnant women, older people, and people with prosthetic legs or chronic illness might not be spotted either. Even if they are, it is unlikely to change driver behaviour or alertness. The 20’s Plenty for Us press release links their call to the disability rights agenda which requires equitable treatment for everyone. Traffic planners should therefore assume everyone is vulnerable.

All aboard for accessibility

In the train carriage, a woman is seated in a manual wheelchair and is sitting next to a man in a standard seat. They are looking at an in-seat screen, probably for movies.Queensland Rail has improved accessibility on the Spirit of Queensland. This journey from Brisbane to Cairns over 25 hours can accommodate most types of power wheelchairs or mobility scooters. Seating car E has three wheelchair spaces, with four additional accessible seats for people who transfer to a seat. It also has an accessible toilet and shower compartment. There is captioning on messages and selected movies as well as hearing loops. Nice contrasting of colours on seats and flooring, plus Braille and tactile signage. 

The Queensland Rail website has a lot more information about accessibility on the Spirit of Queensland and there is a factsheet. The Tilt Train from Brisbane to Rockhampton has similar facilities.Other trains have narrow doors and aisles which makes access difficult. There is no information about toilets on these trains. It will be a great day when all rolling stock is inclusive.  

Editor’s note: I found it difficult to navigate the website to find the relevant information for this post. 

Photo from Queensland Rail website. 

Can everyone benefit from ride-share systems?

Uber driver is pushing a man in a manual wheelchair into the back of the vehicle.Uber is a household name. But can everyone take advantage of ride-share systems? The Living Cities article describes five steps for growing accessible and inclusive transportation systems. There is no one solution: a range of policies and mobility options are needed for low income communities and people with disability. The Movmi blog site extends these ideas for ride-share systems and offers three key elements for inclusion. Both articles have more detail on concepts and solutions. Here are three key elements:

  1. Availability: Good access to public transportation are needed in all areas, as well as car-sharing, bike-sharing and ride-hailing services as a solution for the last mile.
  2. Inclusive design: Ensuring sharing and on demand ride-hailing services are available to people who have limited access to the internet or credit cards. This also includes reducing any physical barriers that may prevent anyone with a disability using these services.
  3. Affordability: Reduced fares and subsidized memberships will ensure everyone has the ability to use public transportation and shared mobility services.

UberWAV is a for riders who use motorised wheelchairs or scooters. Drivers are trained to help with getting in and out of the accessible vehicle. The first UberWAV in Australia was in Newcastle NSW in 2016. The article covers the different services available in the US  for people who don’t have phones and credit cards. The Every Australian Counts website has a 2015 article about UberWAV that provides another point of view.

Report on train station access in Melbourne

Distance view of a major train station showing platforms and trains.Here is a short research paper based on three case studies of train stations in suburban Melbourne. The stations were selected on specific criteria. The results show that in spite of a policy aim of going beyond the Transport Standards to take a whole of journey approach, there is some way to go when it comes to full accessibility.  In the concluding paragraph of the Executive Summary of this working paper, Kathleen Miller writes, “It is recommended that Public Transport Victoria update the information provided through Journey Planner, and on the website, to accurately reflect the accessibility of the train stations visited. This will provide more accurate journey planning information for people in wheelchairs. If this is done across the network it will be a large step towards enabling access to the train system and increased independence for people in wheelchairs to make the decision on what journey is best suited for them”.

A nicely written report with a detailed methodology that can be used as the basis of further studies across Australia. The title is: “Does information from Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner align with real life accessibility for people in wheelchairs?”  

Perhaps another case of bureaucrats not actually knowing what constitutes accessibility? Sometimes it is more than “access”.

Urban design and pedestrian safety

A person wearing a beanie and backpack stands on the footpath. There are people and cars around. It is the evening and street lights are on.Why do people ignore pedestrian crossings and jaywalk instead? Probably because crossings are placed to suit traffic flows not pedestrians. And if every step you take is painful or difficult, a short cut looks even more encouraging. John Rennie Short provides a magazine version of his academic article about how urban design in the US is killing pedestrians and cyclists. In the article he claims, “Across the nation, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% since 2010 and pedestrian deaths have risen by a staggering 45%. More people are being killed because cities are encouraging residents to walk and bike, but their roads are still dominated by fast-moving vehicular traffic. This shifting mix can be deadly.”

The article on FastCo has a video showing how pedestrians are jaywalking across four lanes of traffic. The most worrying of all is a woman using a wheelie-walker. The article sets out the issues and proposes some solutions. Of course, we need universally designed roads, street crossings and footpaths.