Public transport and people with autism

A busy station showing the escalator with lots of travellers.Getting out and about on public transport can be daunting, especially when travelling a route for the first time. With no control over the system it can give rise to worries about arriving at the right place and at the right time. This stress is just one of the worries people with autism experience when using public transport. Stress can impact on their ability to access employment, education and leisure activities. So what to do?

An in-depth study of young adults with autism found there were three main factors affecting participants. Dealing with uncertainty, a general level of anxiety, and the impact of sensory processing, such as crowds and noise. The research report is based on a qualitative study and the voices of the participants are included. People with and without autism will relate to many of their concerns about using public transport.

The researchers suggest a smart phone app that gives information to help reduce anxiety during trip planning and on the trip itself. Knowing about service disruptions and getting guidance at other times of uncertainty is important. However, no app can overcome worries about getting close to other passengers or the level of noise at train stations. But if can reduce anxiety.

As is often the case with solutions for people with specific conditions, this kind of app would be good for many other people. We all like to avoid travel stress if we can. 

The title of the report by the Australian Autism CRC is, The experiences of young autistic adults in using metropolitan public transport

A similar study was carried out in Los Angeles. The aim was to measure the accessibility of the bus system. The title of the article is, Understanding Public Transportation Accessibility for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Six Feelings Approach.  


Design of transport hubs

Three people are in front of a workboard with lots of coloured post-it sticky notes attached.The UK’s Network Rail organisation commissioned a project to find out what communities want from transport hubs. The Design Council ran eleven ThinkStation workshops with 320 participants who generated 35,000 Post-It notes. The aim is to embed the priorities into a design competition brief and evaluation framework. 

Participants consistently identified “community” as a key theme, especially for smaller stations. They said stations should be linked to the community and offer spaces for other activities and local businesses. Community meeting places, green spaces and well designed landscapes were also important. The Design Council report is comprehensive and explains the workshop process and the outcomes. While it is focused on the UK, there are many ideas that are applicable in other countries.

The nine priorities that will guide the future design, development and procurement of local stations are: 

    1. Support existing and new communities in their local area.
    2. Reflect and embody local character and heritage.
    3. Provide consistent quality of space and service.
    4. Establish connections with and between the town centre and/or the high street.
    5. Celebrate, improve the quality of and/or provide access to green and open spaces.
    6. Be welcoming and facilitate inclusive travel.
    7. Support and better integrate cross modal transport.
    8. Help to address climate change.
    9. Ensure longevity by accommodating changes of use, capacity and trends.

You can read the full report or the overview on the Design Council website. It’s also a good example of running a community engagement process.


Airport wayfinding: Easy for everyone

A broad view of the inside of an airport building with people coming and going.Airlines are working to improve accessibility, but airports also need to step up. People with disability are making regular complaints, and older people are likely to just give up travelling by air. Not good for the travel industry or tourism. So a well researched guide is welcome in this space. Wayfinding is far more than just good signage – it starts with the whole building design. In airports it’s about the customer experience and promoting independent travel. That’s regardless of age or ability.

Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities is a comprehensive guide for wayfinding professionals, signage designers, and interior designers. It is published by the US Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program. It comes with a checklist that emphasises community consultation as part of their universal design approach to wayfinding. The detailed guide also has a companion PowerPoint presentation that covers the key elements with lots of pictures. The presentation is 15MB and is downloadable from the main webpage and is a good way to get across the key points. There are eight chapters in the guide:

    1. Introduction
    2. Understanding the needs of aging travelers and passengers with disability
    3. Wayfinding strategies via visual, verbal and virtual communication
    4. Airport planning and design consideration
    5. Departing customer journey
    6. Arriving customer journey
    7. Connecting customer journey
    8. Wayfinding technologies for aging travelers and persons with disability

To achieve the overall objective of helping aging travelers and persons with disabilities to travel independently, an airport has to consider more than just helping these customers know where to go.

Inclusive transit: It’s not the vehicle, it’s the built environment

An older woman using a walking cane walks over a paved section towards the roadway.What is the potential of autonomous vehicles for people who currently don’t drive? And how do public transit organisations get to understand the issues for this group? Answer: ask the potential users. So a focus group study was set up to find out. The researchers found that regardless of the vehicle type, the built environment was a major barrier to using public transport. So even if autonomous vehicles are well designed, if the built environment isn’t accessible, it won’t help as much as first thought. However, transport experts learned that they need to do more work on their policies and strategies to be more inclusive.

Title of the article is, “A focus group study on the potential of autonomous vehicles as a viable transportation option: Perspectives from people with disabilities and public transit agencies”. Institutional access is via Science Direct, or you can ask for a free copy from the authors on ResearchGate. The study was carried out in Texas, USA.

Abstract: Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is becoming one of the most promising alternatives to improve mobility for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, how people with disabilities perceive AV as transportation services has not been explored. Also, limited information exists about how public transit agencies comprehend and perceive autonomous vehicle transportation (AVT) services. This study discusses mobility issues for people with disabilities and explores the potential of AVT to serve that population, particularly those with visual impairments or physical disabilities. Researchers conducted six focus groups comprising people with disabilities (N = 23) and public transit service experts (N = 10) in Austin, Texas and Houston, Texas. Each session was audio-recorded and analyzed using conventional content analysis. This study identified people with disabilities’ mobility issues related to: (1) current transit services (including fixed-route and paratransit services) and (2) the quality of neighborhood built environments. Both people with disabilities and transit experts expected that AVT could mitigate current mobility issues, especially in improved built environments. However, participants with disabilities also expressed concerns and anxieties regarding AVT. Transit experts agreed that more targeted strategies would be needed to overcome possible barriers to AVT for people with disabilities. This study provides insights on shaping AVT strategies and policies relevant to improving mobility for people with disabilities.

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.