Barriers to public transport use

picture of two Sydney buses side by side waiting at traffic lights.Why do people with disability refrain from travelling by public transport even after years of focus on its universal design? Norway has gone to great lengths to create an accessible transport system, but the use by people with disability has not risen significantly. Why? The answers are not what you might expect. The experiences of non-users reveals the actual design of a bus or a train is not enough to ensure accessibility. The barriers to public transport use is that the system itself needs to be universally designed.

You can read more in the article, Public Transport and People with Disabilities – the Experiences of Non-users There are valuable lessons here for transit designers in Australia. The authors refer to people with “impairments” and having “deficits” rather than people with disability – the preferred term in Australia. Part of the abstract is below.

From the abstract:

Universal design is high on the agenda in Norway, but despite years of focus on public transport design, it seems the number of people with disability using it has not increased significantly.

The aim of this paper is to add to the knowledge of why non-users with disabilities refrain from travelling by public transport. The authors’ research question is: “Why do people with impairments avoid travelling by public transport even when it is readily accessible, and are there any further measures that could lead to improvements?” 

Assumptions were made and tested in qualitative studies on people with impairments who seldom or never travel by public transport. These were:

1) that insecurity and expectations lead to seldom or non-use of public transport;

2) that the triggering factors causing seldom or non-use of public transport are different from the issues that users experience;

3) that lack of knowledge among (and help from) drivers and personnel is a considerable barrier to non-use;

4) that a ‘travel buddy’ might help increase the use of public transport among non-users; and

5) that some people with disability have alternatives that work better for them in everyday life. 

The findings indicate that feeling insecure, and expectations that problems will be encountered, are significant barriers to non-use. It’s the sum of all these challenges, real or anticipated, that stops people from using public transport. 

So, is universal design is the solution? Or will individualized solutions provide a sense of freedom and participation for people with disability travelling by public transport?

Barriers in a public transport journey

A young woman is ready to alight a bus in Auckland. When people talk about transport they first think of cars, buses and trains. But the key component linking all of these are footpaths. But having a footpath is only one of the barriers in a public transport journey for people with disability. 

Hazard-free footpaths without obstacles are essential for people with mobility devices and people with vision impairment. This was one finding in a study of 32 participants with either reduced mobility or vision impairment. The whole journey study compared the barriers for different disability types.

The participants in the study were independent users of public transport. Their trips were mainly for work or education. The barriers fell into two categories: built environment and the public transport service.

There were several problems with buses including driver attitudes making things worse. Trains were not so problematic as stations were generally accessible. 

The research paper provides more information about the barriers, and the experiences of the participants. The top three issues were bus driver attitudes, poor presentation of information, and footpath obstructions. 

The title of the paper is, Investigating the barriers in a typical journey by public transport users with disabilities.  It was published in the Journal of Transport & Health.

From the abstract

The study investigated the barriers in a typical journey chain and provides the similarities and differences in the key barriers perceived by people with physical and visual impairments.

The main barriers for physically impaired users were terminals and stops, services, and quality of footpaths. The main barriers for visually impaired users were poor presentation of information, and obstructions on footpaths. Bus driver’s attitude and unawareness of disabled users’ needs was a common concern for both groups.  

Front cover of the report. shows people boarding a tramOther transportation resources on this website are:


Mobility and mobilising with public transport

Front view of a Queensland Rail train at a station. It says Ipswich on the LED displayMaking the transition from driving to using other transportation options can be difficult – not least of all because many options were not designed with older people in mind. Transport policies, equipment and systems are focused on journeys to work, not the day to day needs of people not in the workforce. 

Introduction to Senior Transportation considers the physical and cognitive limitations of older adult passengers, the challenges in meeting their needs, and the transportation methods that do and do not currently meet their needs. The chapters in this book cover many topics. Transitioning from driving, volunteer driver programs, technology and transportation, and ageing policy and transport, 

Introduction to Senior Transportation: Enhancing Community Mobility and Transportation Services is by By Helen K. Kerschner, Nina M. Silverstein and is available from Routledge.  


Accessibility Toolbar