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.
The Bergen Light Rail system is a good example of what can be achieved using a universal design approach. As with most projects this size there are detractors and resisters. But it was accessibility that brought people together to design one of the most successful town planning projects in Norway. The rail system has brought many aspects of the city together. Not only is the light rail accessible, the whole city is more accessible now and further improvements are planned. People who said they never use public transport, now use it happily. The key is that the inclusiveness of the design is barely noticeable. Step free access, step free carriages, automatic doors, simple displays, and effective sound and light signals are good for everyone. The architect says it is the first public transport system in Norway that utilises inclusive design at all levels.
“When the planning of the new light rail began in 2006, inclusive design was not stated as a requirement. Many regulations must be considered in a project of this scale. This led to noise and resistance from politicians in the city, which had to be overcome before the project could start. This was followed by discussions about accessibility, the locations of stops near transfer points, transfers to bus and train and step-free transitions.
A collaboration with FFO (the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People) was established at an early stage and the design team showed them drawings and discussed the ideas with them. This collaboration inspired many new solutions.”
Norway, with its policy and strategies for universal design, has one of the best accessible transport systems. But physical access is not enough to encourage many non-users to catch the bus or train. So, is there a limit to the level of accessibility that should be rolled out? There will always be people with and without disability who will never use public transport. The measure of success isn’t getting more patronage from people with disability; it’s about maintaining current patronage and new travellers in the future – with and without disability.
Designing a more convenient, easy to use system is good for everyone, now and in the future. A good all round experience can encourage people to leave the car at home. That is, if the transportation takes them to where they want to go efficiently and effectively. While universal design works for most, there will always be a need for individualised solutions.
Lastly, our study raises the question of whether universal design or accessibility for all is a good policy objective in public transport. Many of our informants are unable to travel by public transport, even though the system is among the most universally designed available. They would be unable to travel by public transport even if implementation of the measures which constitute universal design today was close to perfect. We write this, not to deny that a good universally designed public transport system is an attractive solution, it will help many, but that there will still be some who will not be reached through the universal design agenda. Therefore, there will still be a need for individual solutions, which could increase the individual’s sense of freedom, participation in working life and value added in society among those who do not have physical and/or mental premises for travelling by public transport.
Research on the real spatial requirements of wheeled mobility devices has been done several times in the past. But when it comes to developing standards to suit a wider user group, somehow those measurements get lost in translation. However, the world is moving on. The population is ageing (more mobility scooters) and people using wheelchairs of all sizes are able to get out and about more. Public transport has to keep up. To this end an interactive web toolhas been developed to determine the dimensions of clear floor area to incorporate more users of wheeled mobility devices. The title of this important article explains the tool, Revisiting Clear Floor Area Requirements for Wheeled Mobility Device Users in Public Transportation. The article is not open source so needs institutional access (or purchase), but here is a section from the abstract:
“The web-based design tool is now available to practitioners who seek to accommodate a wider range of WhMD [wheeled mobility device] users than the minimum standards required by regulations. The design tool is also intended as a visual evidence base for regulatory activity and universal design practice with higher ambitions. The advent of driverless automated vehicles will increase the importance of accessibility and usability to accommodate the diversity of riders with disabilities. Clear floor space to enable independent ingress, interior circulation and egress among WhMD users will be a foremost concern. The transportation industry, standards developers, disability advocates, mobility device manufacturers and prescribers need to understand the limitations of current accessibility standards and work to address these limitations through updated vehicle design standards and policies.