Universally designed transit systems

Train station entry hall in China.Much of our transportation infrastructure was designed last century when the focus was on getting people to work and school. In those days, people with disability were not considered as part of the working or school populations. Times are changing and “average” must evolve to “inclusive” because there is no such thing as the average user.

A magazine article on inclusive transit systems suggests one way to think about the transit system is to recall an experience in another country. Was it easy to use? Did you feel you could confidently and independently navigate you way to your destination? How was buying a ticket? If you got confused it is likely new users will be confused at home too. These are good benchmarks for home country design.

Passengers wheel their baggage on the train station platform. A very fast train is in the backgound.The title of the article is, Designing More Inclusive, Accessible Transit Systems for All. The article refers readers to the American Public Transportation Association Guideline on using a universal design approach

Australia is due for a third review of the accessible public transport standards. Progress still seems slow and we still have a way to go yet. The standard was published in 2002 and the timeline for compliance allows between 5 and 30 years. 

UD2020 universal design conference has morphed into UD2020: People and Transport. It is a half day online event and we are pleased that Lee Steel, Assistant Secretary, Australian Department of Infrastructure, will bring us up to date with the review. There will also be three speakers on grass roots issues. The event is free to CUDA members and speakers and delegates signed up to the original UD2020. 

For more information on accessible and inclusive transit systems and transportation, check out the the Transportation section of this website. 

Mobility as a Service

Graphic of three smart phone screens showing various displays of journey planning.Transportation, whether on the footpath, by bus, train or plane, is not an end in itself. It’s what it allows us to do. The whole journey – the daily commute or the overseas flight, usually takes some joined up thinking. Making our journeys seamless is one of the aims of Mobility as a Service or MaaS. 

MaaS is about integrating various forms of transport services into a single mobility service that is accessible on demand. In other words, an App. But for this to work, a few things have to change. Sharing is part of it. The added benefit is that it offers a real chance to lower our carbon emissions.

If we want to move away from privately owned cars the alternatives have to be as good or better. In the context of autonomous vehicles the idea of MaaS is gaining ground. MaaS combines mobility services from public transport, taxis, car rental and car and bicycle sharing under one platform on a smart phone. It also has the capacity for buy tickets and plan journeys. 

A recent article from The University of Sydney Business School discusses whether MaaS will remain a niche service or whether it can grow into something bigger. Having different levels of service at a range of prices is part of the solution. The biggest hurdle to overcome will be built-in prejudices about using this type of service. But will MaaS be accessible and usable by everyone? There is little mentioned about this in any of the articles.

Accessibility is not just about wheelchair access. People who become anxious in crowded places would benefit from knowing when train carriages are full, for example. But all parts of a service with different operators relies on every one of them being inclusive and accessible. AARP in the United States has a comprehensive look at MaaS in their report, Universal Mobility as a Service

While there is much going on in this space, there is still a lot to work out to make sure inclusion and accessibility is seamless for MaaS to work for everyone. 

Medium online magazine provides a very good overview of MaaS. It explains the different steps we need to take to integrate our transport services. 


Save travel time with accessibility

Street with footpath in a new developmentImproved accessibility not only saves travel time, it also encourages more social activity, particularly in older people. This was one of the findings in a study based on access standards in three countries. Accessibility was also associated with safety and this could have a significant effect on travel behaviour.

It seems that transportation planners should commence their planning with accessibility for people with disability in mind – that way they can be sure the benefits will apply to everyone. Sze and Christensen’s study on accessible transportation compares transport access standards in USA, UK, and Hong Kong. According to the authors, minimum requirements are supplemented with criteria for desired requirements in all three access standards. This study provides technical information, dimensions and design improvements as well as discussion and conclusions.

The article is titled, Access to urban transportation system for individuals with disabilities. It can be accessed online or by downloading the PDF version. 

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleEditor’s Note: I attended a symposium on healthy built environments and transportation. The content was largely about cycling and reducing road use by private vehicles. The focus for public transport was on working age people. Footpaths did not rate a mention until I raised it. I was told that footpaths on both sides of the street were not economically viable, and that before laying a footpath a study should be done on how much use it might get. Other studies have shown that lack of good and even footpaths are a major reason older people will choose to take the car for all trips. Yet often, the people with the most time to undertake incidental and social walking are older people as well as non-working parents with prams and people with disability.

From the Abstract: Safe, efficient and accessible transportation is a key component of community integration. This study attempts to review the current practices and guidelines for accessible design of transportation, both access to and within transport facilities, based on the information from the United States, United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. Besides, the effects of accessible design of transportation on perceived level of service, accessibility, safety and travel behavior would be examined. Therefore, good practices of accessible design that could address the needs for all, especially the elderly and individuals with different types of disability including visual impairment, hearing difficulty and reduced mobility, could be recommended. Hence, quality of life of vulnerable group can be enhanced, and community integration will be achieved in the long run.

On the road with autonomous vehicles

A yellow autonomous vehicle on the road. It is box shaped with large windows and small wheels.What will the future of transport look like post COVID-19 pandemic and what will it mean for autonomous vehicles? For people who don’t or can’t drive, an autonomous vehicle seems a wonderful invention. But will the designs and technology be inclusive?  

It’s not that no-one is thinking about access and inclusion – they are. But it’s not all about the technology. Some of the problems are related to the way vehicles connect with the built environment. Wheelchair accessible features, such as a ramp, can be rendered unsafe on steep inclines. If the wheelchair is not locked down, bumps in the road could cause the chair to tip or fall. 

Some riders will need specific assistive technologies for eye tracking, gesture recognition, and voice control. These would give people with tactile, mobility, and hearing impairments a sense of control without the need to make physical contact. Other practical challenges are around pick up and drop-off, and loading and unloading groceries. Human assistance will still be needed at certain points of the journey for some people. 

These issues and others are discussed in an article, Autonomous vehicles should benefit those with disabilities, but progress remains slow.

For a more academic study and design details see, Accessible Personal Transportation for People with Disabilities Using Autonomous Vehicles. They include the principles of universal design in the text and conclude with a list of recommendations. 

The motoring body, NRMA, predicted in 2017 that autonomous vehicles will be rolling out in significant numbers by 2020. Their report on the Future of Car Ownership shows the step by step progress. You can also get a summary of the report in an infographic

The pandemic has slowed the progress of many things. But it has also changed the way we think about our lives and how we will live them into the future. One thing is constant, we must ensure everyone is included in technological advances.


Curitiba Bus System: Good planning in action

A bus is offloading passengers at a raised tube shaped bus stop. The floor of the bus stop is level with the entry to the busThirty years ago, Curitiba’s forward-thinking and cost-conscious planners integrated public transportation into all the other elements of the urban planning system. They initiated a bus system that focused on meeting the transportation needs of all people. Consequently they claim to have a system that is both efficient and accessible.

While the tube shaped bus shelters seem a little cumbersome being raised up to be level with the bus entry, they shelter travellers from the weather and create a relatively level entry to and from the bus. They also claim that time spent at each stop is less than 30 seconds. Read about the planning of this rapid transport system in southern Brazil. It should be noted that this is not common practice in other parts of Brazil. The title of the article is Curitiba Bus System is Model for Rapid Transit.

A person in a manual wheelchair is entering onto the short yellow ramp into the bus from the tube shaped bus shelter

Woman with a baby stroller using the platform lift to get onto the raised bus stop platform .The bus stop is a tube shaped shelter

Off to work we go. Or do we?

A man holding a boarding pass in his hand along with a bag. You can see the airport in the background.Travelling to work is one thing. Travelling for work is another.  A recent study of Australian university staff who travel for work revealed common difficulties. All participants reported that their disability, whether declared or not, affected their ability to undertake work-based travel. Some of their necessary compromises involved extra cost at their own expense. 

There are four things that make travelling for work difficult for people with disability. They are the way the current system is designed, stigma and victimisation, self reliance and asking for help. And of course, double the effort that anyone else takes for an event-free journey. These factors also apply to the tourism sector. That’s because academics who frequently travel for work might extend their stay for a short vacation. They might take their family too.

The university travel booking service on campus often asked participants to seek additional information themselves. This was not seen as part of the service. One participant found it easier to bypass the system and do their own bookings even though they had to foot the bill. Potentially, the system isn’t smooth sailing for others either.

Another participant was told by a supervisor they couldn’t be an academic if it meant travelling overseas. Booking travel also meant revealing a previously hidden disability. This is a tricky area. Other articles have revealed the reticence to declare a disability for fear of discrimination and disbelief

The article, Negotiating work-based travel for people with disabilities, has some recommendations. They are applicable for workplaces and tourism operators alike.  You will need institutional access for a free read or contact the authors at The University of Queensland.

Abstract: In an ideal world, inclusive travel services would value each person, support full participation and seek to embrace the similarities, as well as the differences, to be found in society. Anecdotally at least, it seems the unspoken truth for many individuals with a disability is that efforts to engage in any form of travel are often thwarted by poor service provision, systemic bias and discrimination. Using an inductive line of inquiry, this Australian study sought to detail how staff with a disability in the higher education sector negotiated their work-related travel responsibilities. Findings revealed that many felt compromised by current systems and practices with many required to go ‘above and beyond’ that expected of their work colleagues. The results of the research project serve to inform employers about the often unvoiced challenges employees with disabilities face when meeting work-based travel expectations. The findings also contribute directly to the transformative service research agenda by offering clear insight into how the travel and hospitality industry might be more inclusive of employees travelling for work-based purposes to the benefit of all parties.

Mind the gap in rail travel

A large crowded entrance hall of a railway station showing shops as well as lots of people.We all want the same things from rail travel. Value for money, getting a seat, and arriving on time. But some need a bit more than this. Step-free access, accessible information, accessible toilets, and easy ticket purchase. These are some of the findings in an Australian rail travel report.

The Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation report is based on an international study. Public transport systems in five countries were reviewed. The aim was to identify good practise and issues yet to have solutions. The executive summary reports:

    • Many people with disability experienced abuse and discrimination from both passengers and staff.
    • Easy access to reliable information was critical for planning a journey.
    • There is a considerable difference between urban and rural areas when it comes to accessibility.

The five countries reviewed in the report are Spain, UK, Australia, Sweden, and United States. Public transport links with tourism and the same innovations are needed here. Accessible retail, workplaces, banking, and easy access in and around rail and transport hubs.

The title of the report is, Rail travel and disability: an international perspective on accessibility. A very useful document for the upcoming review of Australia’s Transport Standards. 

See also a previous post, Rail carriages and universal design  which gives technical advice as well.

Train station platform edge with the words in yellow, "Mind the gap".

Is your inclusive my exclusive?

View of a kerb cut with yellow tactile markers on the kerb ramp.Tactile markers and kerb cuts are commonplace on our footpaths and in other outdoor places. But what suits a person with a mobility restriction can pose problems for someone with low vision and vice versa. This issue of access features as a minimum standard is nicely presented in, Is your inclusive my exclusive

The article is one of several conference papers in Open Space : People Space 3. It begins with a really good way of explaining the terminology each of which has inclusion as the underlying goal. Accessible design is about accommodating specific individuals and is usually applied at the end of the design process or a retrofit. But accessible design does not suit all. 

Universal design is explained as a strategy to make designs usable for any many people as possible. This is less stigmatising for all users. If an outdoor space is designed inclusively, the need for tactile markers is reduced. Architectural features provide guidance instead.

The article includes a case study of tactile paving. Observations of pedestrians and lab tests on different designs are discussed briefly. The way that tactile pavers and kerb cuts are maintained is an ongoing issue for users and should not be ignored. The article ends with a reminder that good design, inclusive design, benefits everyone. Through a process of continuous improvement we can do better than minimum standards. 

There are several good papers in this conference which was focused on research into inclusive outdoor environments.

See also a previous post, Tactile ground markers vs wheelchairs: a solution?   


Rail carriages and universal design

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.A new design guide for accessible inter-city train carriages covers just about everything you need to know. Oregon State University comprehensively researched design options for making passenger trains universally designed. Their findings are reported in Inclusive Universal Accessible Design Guidelines for Next Gen Passenger Rail. With the age of passengers increasing, they recognise the need for improved access for everyone.

The guide has a lot of technical data to support the design options. The focus is on wheeled mobility devices and assistance animals, but other groups are also considered. The guide discusses the trade-off between a larger restroom and the number of wheeled devices in a carriage. It doesn’t always mean a loss of seating for others. Folding seats are an option and they recognise that some wheelchair users will transfer to a regular seat. The lounge or buffet cars can also be universally designed. Sleeper cars, however, were not included in this research.  

A good article for anyone involved in the design of rail infrastructure. Lots of detailed technical information including restroom fittings, public address systems and emergency procedures. Diagrams of layouts help with design explanations. While this document is based on USA requirements, it has relevance elsewhere.

Some newer Australian long distance trains have embraced inclusive design for all passengers. The image is from Queensland Rail.

The Transportation section of this website has more articles, research and guides.

The Whole Journey: A guide

Passengers are getting on a train in Perth. There is a yellow plate that covers the gap between the platform and carriage.In response to a second review of the accessible public transport standard, the Australian Government produced a whole journey guide. The 2017 guide was developed through in-depth consultations and workshops with all stakeholders. A third review was carried out in 2018. Here are some key points:

    • Prior to the introduction of the Transport Standards there was no focused effort to remove discrimination from Australia’s public transport systems.
    • The Transport Standards aimed to provide certainty of Disability Discrimination Act responsibilities, as well as a focus on a customers, liveable communities and the uptake of new technologies.
    • Transport for NSW access upgrades requires local council co-ordination, apps and real time information to give people with disability information about accessible routes and transport, starting from the home.
    • One the problems with access standards for transport is they were too prescriptive, cobbled together from other standards, with no understanding about transport related issues, and significantly strove for minimums, not excellence.
    • Accessible transport is an enabler, promoting age-friendly cities, with walking as an ingredient. Hence the need to look at the whole journey, requiring quality footpaths, kerb crossings, and pedestrianisation.

picture of two Sydney buses side by side waiting at traffic lights.

The Whole Journey: A guide for thinking beyond compliance to create accessible public transport journeys, can be downloaded in sections from the Department of Infrastructure website. There’s a good section on universal design that shows how it captures other terms. It also references the National Disability Strategy in this section.