Public transport design and mental health

A busy station showing the escalator with lots of travellers.The design of the public environment and transport systems often focus on physical access. Features such as seating areas and information systems also impact people with mental health conditions. This was one of the findings from a research paper from Norway. The paper also called out for universal design thinkers to go beyond physical impairments.

The purpose of the research was to identify barriers in public transport for people with mental health conditions. That’s because other research shows that they travel less often than the rest of the population. Lack of access to transport can lead to social isolation which, of course, has a negative impact on all aspects of health. 

The main barriers for people with mental health conditions included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting times, and lack of staff understanding. The train was preferable to other means of public transport, but the car was essential for the wellbeing of many participants in the study.

The title of the paper is, Universal Design of Public Transport Systems for People with Mental Health Impairments.  Note, that the use of the word “impairment” is likely to be a quirk of translation to English. The paper was published in the Proceedings from the 4th Conference on Architecture Research Care & Health. It has papers on the public domain, housing, and strategies for the architectural design process. 

From the abstract

Objective – We examined the barriers people with mental impairments have in relation to travel, what can be done to make it easier for them to travel, and if today’s understanding of universal design includes people with mental impairments.

Background – People with mental health impairments travel less often than the rest of the population. The field of universal design has done a considerable amount with regards to public transit for people with physical impairments, but more knowledge is needed about how people with mental impairments experience public transport.

Research question – What barriers do people with mental health impairments meet along the transport chain? What practical solutions can be used to get more people with mental health impairments to use public transport? 

Methods – Nine semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with people with different types of mental impairments. Informants included both genders and a range of age groups and came from both urban and rural areas of Norway.

Results – Today’s understanding of universal design largely includes people with physical rather than mental health impairments. The main barriers
identified for people with mental impairments included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting time, economic barriers and lack of understanding from staff. 

Conclusion – We found several physical design measures including sitting area design, transport mode design and design of information systems. Other measures included economic support, training of staff and higher frequency of departure. We should therefore broaden our understanding of universal design, and not look exclusively at physical design.