Barriers to public transport use

picture of two Sydney buses side by side waiting at traffic lights.Norway has gone to great lengths to create an accessible transport system, but the use by people with disability has not risen significantly. So it was time to find out 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 because 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.


Society should be designed so that its infrastructure is accessible to all, as much as possible without special solutions and despite differences in level of functioning, to the point where disabilities are rendered irrelevant. Universal design or accessibility for all is high on the agenda in Norway, but despite years of focus on design in public transport, it seems that the number of people with disabilities actually 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?” 

[T]he authors made certain assumptions which were 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 impaired people do not use public transport because they have alternatives that work better for them in everyday life. 

The findings indicate that insecurity while travelling on public transport and expectations that problems will be encountered along the way are significant barriers to non-use. For many with deficits, it is the sum of all these challenges combined, real or anticipated, that leads to them refraining from using public transport. The findings also point to a ‘travel buddy’ as a measure that might encourage some non-users to use public transport more often and help make actual availability of the system more visible.

Finally, the authors question whether universal design is the solution, or whether individualized solutions provide a sense of freedom, of participation in working life and of value added in society among those who do not have physical and/or mental premises for travelling by public transport.