Bus and tram stops by universal design

A young woman is sitting in a bus shelter and looking down the road. The shelter is lit and has an information board.Public transport is often perceived as an inefficient way to travel, especially in terms of time taken. Not good for customer service or engagement. A new research paper reports on a detailed analysis of transit stop positioning using a holistic universal design approach. The following scenario from the paper’s conclusions will be familiar to some:

“To get from my house to the nearest restaurant is a mile-and-a-half walk, which takes me about 30 minutes each way. To get to the same restaurant by bus, I must walk half a mile, then cross a heavily traveled arterial street with no pedestrian protection to arrive at the nearest stop (it’s unprotected) for a route that passes the restaurant. Once the bus arrives, I have to ask the driver where the bus is going, since there’s no signage at the stop, pay the fare, and then watch as the bus stops six times in the remaining mile, all of those stops on the same arterial street I just crossed to board the bus. It takes me 10 minutes to walk the half-mile to the bus stop, and according to the Met Transit schedule, it takes the bus another 20 minutes to negotiate the remaining mile to the restaurant, so walking or riding the bus are equivalent in terms of time spent. It’s the sort of bus service that encourages people to drive a car instead.”

A universal design approach looks at the whole area and the street linkages that encourage active travel. The article addresses the placement and design of the stops in detail. There’s some joined up thinking for the eighteen elements identified including: safety, convenience, lighting, routing patterns, width of footpaths and pedestrian activity. The pros and cons of different stop placements are listed in a table. The research found that add-ons, such as WiFi and USB ports, were not highly regarded, but service frequency and faster travel times were. Shelters at stops and up to date information were critical design elements.

A transit stop in itself serves more than one purpose: it signals the presence of a transit service, information about the service, information about surrounding destinations, and a place to wait. This article draws together the many elements that transport designers should consider in providing, what is in essence, a good customer service experience.

The title of the article is: Urban Design of On-Street Stops and Road Environments: A Conceptual Framework.

Abstract:  Transit stops should be situated where they are convenient to use and the safety of passengers and alternative road users has been taken into consideration. A review of literature has indicated that there are some important factors that should be taken into consideration at the design and planning stage. These factors have been found to have the ability to influence the location of a transit stop and transit shelter. The underlying focus of this paper is that on-street stops and their connecting roads are viewed as a holistic environment, instead of an ordinary place or location for transit modes to make a stop. This environment includes elements such as: Accessibility through street connectivity, street and road design, and transit stop design.This paper develops a conceptual model that links the various variables together, highlighting how one affects the other and their impact on the overall ability to produce a good passenger experience, which is the fundamental goal of any successful on-street stop design. This paper concludes that transit stops are easier to locate when there is high street connectivity which determines to a large extent how transit passengers gain access to transit service. Also, proper design and configuration of on-street stops and connecting roads lead to increased safety, thereby leading to increased ridership and revenue and also impact how everyone on the street interacts with the transit system.

 

Towards user-centric transport in Europe

Woman with a baby stroller using the platform lift to get onto the raised bus stop platform .The bus stop is a tube shaped shelterTransportation researchers in Europe are seeking the best solutions for innovative and inclusive mobility. The Mobility 4EU project is all about the user perspective in different types of transport. It covers technological, social, legal and economic aspects of mobility and transportation. The project ended in March 2019. It resulted in several conference papers published in a 2020 book by SpringerLink titled Towards User-Centric Transport in Europe 2. This follows the 2019 publication under the same title, which has three chapters related to inclusion and universal design:

Mainstreaming the Needs of People with Disabilities in Transport Research argues mainstreaming disability should not exclude conducting disability-related transport research. 

Universal Design as a Way of Thinking about Mobility looks at the use of UD as a policy objective for transport policy using the Norwegian experience as an example. It’s also available on ResearchGate. 

Bus driver helps woman with her wheelie walkerOlder People’s Mobility, New Transport Technologies and User-Centred Innovation reports on findings from four focus groups examining mobility challenges and automated vehicles were also discussed. It’s also available on ResearchGate. 

There are other chapters on active mobility, car sharing, mobility as a service, and the door to door travel chain. 

 

Technology, transportation and inclusion

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.In the UK one fifth of all car journeys are taken by people with disability, and one third of those are taken as a passenger. So, Connected and autonomous vehicles provide a great opportunity to create independent travel. While they are a good example of what can work well in theory, there are many pitfalls in making them fully accessible. This is where policy and regulations have a strong role to play.

An article on the Open Inclusion website has a podcast and a video of two transportation specialists. One works for KPMG and the other for a digital design agency. They discuss the amount of change going on in the transportation industry. The real driver of change is the amount of data being produced. This is good in terms of being able to provide real time data on services, and other information such as station platform lifts being out of order. Electrification and automation are the other major changes, and opportunities for the private sector to provide services.

There is more useful information on this website on practical aspects of inclusion for people with disability: smart cities, inclusive travel, and universal design. It includes a link to the autonomous shuttle bus in an aged care village in Canberra, and you can read more about autonomous vehicles and how they work. 

 

Expanding flying toilet

A view down the aisle of a narrow body aircraft.The toilet is the lynch pin of a trip for many travellers and no more so than for wheelchair users. When it comes to flying, aircraft toilets pose many problems. Until now. An expandable toilet comes to the rescue. However, it will be a while before they are fitted to existing fleets. An article in the online magazine, Business Traveller, tells of an accessible toilet for single-aisle aircraft. Two firms got together to design the concept of the expanding aircraft toilet. During a flight, crew can unlatch one wall, pull out an extension into the galley to create 40 per cent more space. It has been designed to replace existing lavatories on narrow-body aircraft, which are extremely difficult to use for anyone requiring a wheelchair or assistance from a carer. There is more to the story and several pictures in the article to demonstrate how it would work 

Firms create accessible toilet for single-aisle aircraft

Accessible rail travel

A train line disappears in the distance and in the foreground is a red rail indicator light.How does Australia rate globally when it comes to rail travel and related public infrastructure? Well, that depends. A new report compares Australia with UK, Spain, Sweden, and United States. Other types of global rankings are included in the report by Claire Shooter of the Rail Safety and Standards Board in UK. Of course, there are considerable variations within countries too. There’s a lot of good information in this report and it’s worth a browse.

The executive summary explains there were two main messages throughout the literature on improving accessibility:
1. Designing transport to be accessible to all has benefits far beyond making the transport network accessible to people with disabilities; It improves the experience of tourists, shoppers, families, people with temporary disabilities and pregnant women. Taking visible steps towards improving accessibility itself encourages more people to use the service.
2. It is critical to engage people with disability in the choice, design, and implementation of accessibility improvements to ensure they are appropriate and effective. Not only does this increase the confidence of people with disability that the transport network cares about catering to them, it can avoid costly investments in inadequate solutions.

The report, Rail travel and disability: An international perspective on accessibility. is on the RSSB website. Note: accessing via the website requires a free login process. It is a bit cumbersome but it provides access to other documents as well. Or you can download directly from this website

The objectives of the research:

As a result of actual or perceived difficulty using public transport, many people with disabilities (PwD) rely on private vehicles, taxis, or designated paratransit services to travel. In Australia, the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) based in Canberra and CQUniversity are conducting research to better understand what could be done to improve use of public transport by PwD. Under a memorandum of understanding, ACRI and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) of Great Britain regularly share knowledge to add value to the research and innovation activities of both countries. This report is the first joint initiative between ACRI and RSSB, which aims to conduct a global horizon scan of accessibility innovations and practices in sectors including transport, retail and hospitality that may aid the rail travel experience for people with a disability.

Counting costs that don’t count

Road workers in hi-vis vests are laying bitumentEver wondered why some economic arguments seem to fall on stony ground even when they’ve been well researched and even asked for? Looks like politicians’ personal experience counts for more when decisions are being made. A Norwegian researcher wanted to find out why road-building priorities diverge from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis. It is likely that many other policy decisions are made in a similar way, not just road investments. Here is an excerpt from the findings about why factors other than cost criteria are used to make decisions:

• Political institutions have created a kind of gift relationship in the road sector, with the state as donor and municipalities as recipients.

• To the extent that the state cannot scrutinize all assumptions and calculations of traffic, costs and benefits, an information asymmetry arises and favours the local receivers.

• In cases of local/national conflict of interest, some key politicians and other stakeholders at the donor side either have their own agendas (such as campaigning), or their loyalty is with the recipient rather than the donor (society).

It seems reasonable that elected representatives are less likely to vote in accordance with the benefit/cost ratios of projects the more sceptical they are to the method of CBA. When sceptical, they are apt to look for alternative decision support, even if several studies have found CBA results to be quite robust.

The intention has not been to argue that the benefit/cost ratio should be decisive when setting priorities among projects on classified roads, but rather to highlight circumstances that tend to push CBA results into the background. The principle of choosing projects with high benefit/cost ratio may be supplemented by so many other assessment criteria that the difference between professional and political judgement is dissolved.”

The title of the article is, Why don’t cost-benefit results count for more? The case of Norwegian road investment priorities. Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research an open access article.

Abstract: The starting point is that the benefit/cost ratio is virtually uncorrelated to the likelihood of a Norwegian classified road project entering the list of investments selected for the National Transport Plan. The purpose of the article is to explain what pushes cost-benefit results into the background in the prioritization process. The reasons for their downgrading point to mechanisms that are at work not only in Norway. Explanatory factors are searched for in incentives for cost-ineffective action among planners, bureaucrats and national politicians, respectively, as well as in features of the planning process and the political system. New data are used to show that the road experts’ list of prioritized projects changes little after submission to the national politicians, suggesting that the Norwegian Public Roads Administration puts little emphasis on its own cost-benefit calculations. Besides, it is shown that the petroleum revenues of the state do not provide a strong reason for neglecting cost-benefit accounts. The overall contribution of the article is to offer a comprehensive explanation why professional and political authorities in Norway set road-building priorities diverging massively from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis.

Autonomous Vehicles are OK

A yellow automated vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? That’s a question a group at Curtin University wanted to know. Using the feedback from a survey of more than 1600 Australians they found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

The authors conclude that the move to autonomous vehicles will provide substantial benefits for society. However, there is a need to make sure the community is receptive to this technological change to ensure timely adoption. Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. Concrete information to reduce fear levels and create trust will be important for this group. The key point in this qualitative study is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research.

Abstract: For the benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to be optimized, the fleet conversion process needs to be efficient and timely. This study explored public attitudes to AVs to inform strategies to increase receptivity to the wide-scale use of AVs. A national online survey was administered to a sample of 1,624 Australians aged 16+ years. The survey featured open-ended questions that scoped respondents’ perceptions of AVs. A grounded, thematic analysis identified two primary dimensions in the data: response valence (how positive or negative the comments were about the advent of AVs) and response type (the extent to which the comments reflected a cognitive or emotional response). This resulted in a dimensional analysis featuring four quadrants that captured the topics that were most frequently raised spontaneously by respondents. The quadrant characterized by comments that were positive/neutral and cognitive in nature was the most substantial, indicating general acceptance. Where concerns were expressed, they typically related to perceived safety, trust, and control issues, and tended to be more emotional in nature. The results highlight the importance of providing the public with concrete information about AVs to address fear levels and to resolve trust and control issues.

You can also read about the first driverless shuttle at Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia. The picture above is from the article.

 

Accessible public transportation: A book

Front cover of the book showing a typical city street in US. There are cars, buses, a train, bicycles and pedestrians.Everyone is happy when a wheeled mobility user can quickly and easily board the bus or train. And the person wheeling on doesn’t get unwanted attention from other passengers. Based on research in the United States comes a book on accessible public transportation. It covers different technologies, policies and programs with inclusive solutions for everyone. The book is based on research from Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at Buffalo. The research was carried out with a range of stakeholders and is useful for policymakers, planners and advocates. The title of the book is, Accessible public transportation:designing service for riders with disability. The video below shows what went into the research, and list of chapters following gives an overview of the content. The focus is on people with disability, but of course, designing this group becomes good design for everyone.

1 The Importance of Public Transportation
2 The Culture of Accessible Transportation
3 The Scope of Inclusive Transportation 
4 Trip Planning and Rider Information 
5 The Built Environment 
6 Vehicle Design 
7 Demand Responsive Transportation 
8 Paratransit Scheduling and Routing 
9 Location-Based Information 
10 Social Computing and Service Design 
11 Learning from Riders 
12 Vision for the Future 

Every train should have auto ramps

The sliding step at the train doorway allows for easy access.Merseyrail in the north of England has a set of new trains with a low floor at each doorway with an intelligent sliding step. The technology uses a sensor to detect the distance to the platform. Then a reinforced automated step slides out to bridge the gap between the train and the platform. It’s commonly used in Switzerland which means it is well tested. If other countries can order trains with universal easy access, why can’t that be done across Australia?

Passengers are getting on a train in Perth. There is a yellow plate that covers the gap between the platform and carriage.Perth in Australia has a similar convenience to Merseyrail so that no-one has to mind the gap when getting on and off. You can read more about the Merseyrail project on the Intelligent Transport website: Improving Accessibility on Merseyrail with New Trains

The new Sydney Metro has designed a close match between the train doors and the platform. It means that most wheeled devices can make the transition from the train to the platform. But every other train system in Sydney, including Light Rail, still requires a station attendant to put out the ramp for wheelchair users. And this has to be pre-arranged. Parents with prams, people with luggage or people a little unsteady on their feet still need to “mind the gap”.  How about some retrofitting with this technology? That would save staff time and provide dignified independent access for all. Other passengers would be happy too.

The top picture is the Merseyrail train, and the bottom picture was taken in Perth. You can just see the yellow “bridge” between the train and the platform.

Mind the Mind Gap in Transportation

an aerial view of a complex roadway intersection at night where it is lit up with many colours.Among the list of invisible disabilities are mental health conditions, as well as compulsory and phobia conditions. While basic physical access is being addressed, different mental health conditions are rarely considered. Using the underpinning principles of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, researchers from Austria looked at the issues with participants from the target groups. They found that strategies to support self-distraction as well as creating environments that were relaxing helped. The paper concludes,

“In general, measures should concentrate on strategies to support self-distraction and self-manipulation (e.g. personal entertainment, breathing exercises), as well as on infrastructural and organizational improvements (e.g. relaxing environment, improvement of layouts and signage, trained service personnel, raising of public awareness). The target group may get confronted with additional challenges or barriers due to the social and technological developments (e.g. automated driving) in the near future. 

Abstract. Engineers and planners are always jointly responsible for the usability of their interventions. In the transport sector, universal design is a planning imperative to ensure that all user groups participate equally in traffic. Usually, only physical impairments are in the foreground. However, there is an ever-increasing group of people with psychological impairments. Mental health diseases, especially phobias, anxiety, and compulsory disorders, are one of the most prevalent diseases in industrial countries – one-year prevalence rates are estimated at 10 up to 15%. Although rules, regulations, policies and action plans have been established to create an overall inclusive transportation system, the needs of people with mental impairments are mostly not considered. At the same time, participation in traffic is important for people with mental impairments to satisfy their daily needs and to reach therapeutic institutions. In addition, social interaction and the mastery of every-day tasks strengthens self-confidence and supports the healing process. Not least for that reason, the UN SDGs have been formulated. By conducting an exploratory study, the behaviour and needs of people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders and the effects on their participation in traffic were explored. The paper shows general aspects concerning the traffic behaviour of people affected in the course of the disease. Furthermore, different forms of mobility barriers for people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders were identified, distinguishing between infrastructural barriers, social barriers and organisational barriers. As a result, several approaches to support the participation in traffic of people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders, based on coping strategies used by the target group, are mentioned. In addition, the paper identifies potential future challenges in context with mobility trends, concerning the accessibility of the transportation system for affected people, as well as further research needs.

The full title of the paper is, Access to Transport Services and Participation in Traffic for People with Mental Health Diseases – Challenges to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide an overall inclusive Transportation System.