Step-free railway stations: benefits for all

If any aspect of a public transit journey creates inconvenience or anxiety, people just won’t make the journey. Or only make when it is essential. This has a knock-on affect for socialisation and the economy. People with reduced mobility usually face more inconveniences than others when using public transport. A study in the UK found that step-free railway stations has benefits for all.

A classic view of a railway station in the UK. Access to the train carriage looks difficult due to the gap between the platform and the carriage door.

A train waits at a railway station platform. In the distance there is a flight of steps to an overpass. The train look modern but the platform looks old.

Lifts to platforms are a good start but this is only one link in the whole journey. The physical aspects are getting to the station, into the station, using a transit card or ticket, and getting onto the platform. Then there’s the matter of getting onto the train, finding a seat, getting off again and ready to negotiate the platform and station at the destination. Lots of actions to seamlessly link up. And then there is the information side of things.

What is step-free?

Researchers in the UK found that transport professionals had different definitions of step-free. Some used guidelines or standards rather than critically thinking about the overall design of the train or station. However, they all interpreted “step-free” as being physical, whereas if it were to be inclusive, it would consider more than steps in and around the station and the train.

Using mixed methods, the researchers found that there was no agreement about what constituted step-free access. In some instances it was confined to the station itself, while in others it included the street to train.

The researchers list the key benefits of inclusive railway design in a table. It tabulates three types of benefit: economic, mental health and physical health. Both direct and indirect revenue and environmental benefits are also included.

Although this paper is focused on UK railway stations and and operators, it makes the links between good accessible, inclusive design and benefits for the economy and society. It goes beyond the traditional benefits for people with reduced mobility, which is what most other studies have done.

Once again, designing for a marginalised group means designing for everyone.

The title of the article is, Step-free railway station access in the UK: the value of inclusive design. The article is part of a collection of papers in a special journal issue, Towards collaborative and more inclusive transport systems. All articles are open access.

From the Abstract

People with reduced mobility travel less than than others. That’s despite substantial investment in step-free access at UK railway stations. This research examines the benefits of step-free access and the wider benefits of railway station accessibility.

The results show that the benefits of step-free access extend beyond those with reduced mobility. It demonstrates the potential to positively affect the society economically, environmentally, and socially.

Government and interested stakeholders should commit to expanding the number and coverage of step-free stations throughout the UK. They should ensure that the appraisal process for investment in step-free accessibility appropriately captures both user and non-user benefits.

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