Designing bus transit infrastructure with universal design

Norway has a long-held commitment to universal design across all sectors. However, with the best will in the world the concept is still poorly understood in transport infrastructure. When Trondheim initiated its new rapid bus transit system, universal design underpinned the design parameters. But designing bus transit infrastructure requires some joined up thinking and joined up standards.

The Trondheim infrastructure experience

The case study of Trondheim in Norway shows how the best laid plans can go awry if there isn’t joined up thinking at the planning stage. Once this was realised the next step was finding ways to remedy the situation. That’s because Trondheim replaced their whole fleet with the new metro buses.

The new bus transit infrastructure in Trondheim. A long articulated bus in bright lime green and dark grey.

At a late stage in the planning process, with construction of the stations and delivery of the buses well underway, it was discovered that the stations and the buses had been built to different accessibility standards.

Photo of the Trondheim bus transit

In a conference paper Jacob Deichmann outlines the issues and the different ideas and lists them in a handy table. All the stations were built to Norwegian State guidelines for accessible design. The “kneeling” buses were designed and built in Belgium. But there was a big gap between bus and kerb edge. The size of the gap also depended on the skill of the driver in getting as close as possible to the kerb.

Once this discrepancy was discovered advocacy groups complained to the media and to politicians. The response was that they met the access standards, but manual flip ramps would be added. However, this does not provide equitable access as someone has to deploy the ramp taking up valuable travel time. And efficient travel times was a key element of the system.

The paper has a chart giving an overview of the different remedies suggested based on product research. It lists the various ramp systems, gap-fillers and bus pads at kerbside. The chosen solutions were training of drivers in the short term. In the medium term there was to be a trial of motorised ramps, the bus pad and a guiding system. Longer term solutions were the gap-filler method and raised platforms.

When standards and guidelines aren’t enough

Both the platform designer and the bus manufacturer followed valid guidelines and best practice. The lack of consistency in the guidelines makes it difficult for non experts in universal design to make the best choices. In the worst case scenario, following standards can prevent a universal design approach.

More training on universal design is required at the planning and procurement stage. The underlying concept of providing an equitable and accessible means of transport needs to be fully understood.

The title of the conference paper is Universal Design in the Metrobuss System of Trondheim, Norway – Challenges and Solutions.

The short video below shows the convenience of an automated bus ramp deployed for a wheelchair user and then everyone else used it.

Automatic ramp on a Perth bus was used for a wheelchair user and then everyone else.

A better example of universal design is the Bergen Light Rail project.