Work, transport and wheelchair users

Picture showing the level access from the platform into the train. Work, transport and wheelchair users.How many jobs can a wheelchair user reach using public transport? Combining wheelchair accessibility with potential jobs is a useful way to show how access is good for individuals and the economy. That’s because we can add anyone with difficulty walking, and also people taking their children to childcare near their workplace. 

Montreal and Toronto are retrofitting their networks to ensure that all individuals can use the public transport system. But will it be enough? A group of transport researchers created a method to identify the public transport barriers that prevent wheelchair users from getting to jobs.

Once the method was devised, they applied it to Montreal and Toronto. They calculated calculate the number of jobs that can be reached within 45 minutes of travel by public transport by a wheelchair user compared to the number of jobs a non wheelchair user can access.

In Toronto, wheelchair users have access to 75% of jobs compared to non wheelchair users. In Montreal this figure drops to 46%. The main reason for the difference is that Montreal has less accessible subway stations than Toronto.

The title of the article is, Comparing accessibility to jobs by public transport for individuals with and without a physical disabilityThe article covers the development of the methodology, the results and analysis. It is worth noting that if wheelchair users can get out and about easily, others with mobility issues will also be served. So it is not just about a niche group particularly as our population ages.


Equal access to opportunities has emerged in public transport planning as a social objective that many transport agencies are trying to achieve. Yet in practice, not all public transport agencies are currently providing urban residents with comparable levels of service due to physical barriers in the public transport network that can significantly hinder the ability of individuals with physical disabilities to access opportunities.

In countries without a strong federal accessibility act and/or with major financial constraints, some public transport agencies fall behind in applying universal access design principles, making it even harder for people with a physical disability to access opportunities.

The objective of this study is to develop a methodology that can be used by
public transport agencies or disability advocates to clearly highlight and quantify the performance of the public transport network in a region, in terms of providing transit services to people in a wheelchair and compare that to the service offered to an individual not in a wheelchair.

In this study we use accessibility, the ease of reaching destinations, by public transport as the key performance measure in two major Canadian Cities (Montreal and Toronto). Furthermore, we focus on job accessibility in the most socially vulnerable census tracts in both cities, to evaluate levels of job accessibility for wheelchair users residing in socially vulnerable areas.

The findings from our study show striking contrasts between the numbers of accessible jobs by public transport for wheelchair users compared to the general population. On average, wheelchair users in Toronto have access to 75% of jobs that are accessible to users that are not in a wheelchair, whilst their counterparts in Montreal have access to only 46% of the jobs accessible to other users.

This research is expected to highlight for public transport engineers, planners, policy makers and advocates for those with disabilities, the importance of universal access in a region, especially along public transport networks, using a widely used land use and transport performance measure.

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.  


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