Mind the gap in rail travel

A large crowded entrance hall of a railway station showing shops as well as lots of people.We all want the same things from rail travel. Value for money, getting a seat, and arriving on time. But some of us need a bit more than this. Step-free access, accessible information, accessible toilets, and easy ticket purchase.  

The Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation report is based on an international study of public transport systems in five countries. The aim was to identify good practise and issues yet to have solutions. The executive summary reports:

    • Many people with disability experienced abuse and discrimination from both passengers and staff.
    • Easy access to reliable information was critical for planning a journey.
    • There is a considerable difference between urban and rural areas when it comes to accessibility.

The title of the report is, Rail travel and disability: an international perspective on accessibility. 

Rail carriages and universal design

In the train carriage, a woman is seated in a manual wheelchair and is sitting next to a man in a standard seat. They are looking at an in-seat screen, probably for movies.A new design guide for accessible inter-city train carriages covers just about everything you need to know. Oregon State University comprehensively researched design options for making passenger trains universally designed. Their findings are reported in Inclusive Universal Accessible Design Guidelines for Next Gen Passenger Rail. With the age of passengers increasing, they recognise the need for improved access for everyone.

The guide has a lot of technical data to support the design options. Wheeled mobility devices and assistance animals are the focus, along with other groups. The trade-off between a larger restroom and the number of wheeled devices in a carriage doesn’t always mean a loss of seating for others. Folding seats are an option and they recognise that some wheelchair users will transfer to a regular seat. The lounge or buffet cars can be universally designed, but sleeper cars, however, were not included in this research.  

A good article for anyone involved in the design of rail infrastructure. Lots of detailed technical information including restroom fittings, public address systems and emergency procedures. Diagrams of layouts help with design explanations. While this document is based on USA requirements, it has relevance elsewhere.

Some newer Australian long distance trains have embraced inclusive design for all passengers. The image is from Queensland Rail.

The Transportation section of this website has more articles, research and guides.

Train station platform edge with the words in yellow, "Mind the gap".

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. 

 

Counting costs that don’t count

Road workers in hi-vis vests are laying bitumen. Counting costs don't count.
Workers repairing the road

Ever wondered why economic arguments seem to fall on stony ground even when they’ve been well researched and even asked for? Seems politicians’ personal experience counts 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. That’s why sometimes counting costs don’t count.

Here is an excerpt from the findings about why factors other than cost criteria mean that counting costs don’t count:

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.

Barriers to travel not the same for everyone

People are carrying heavy luggage up 56 steps at a train station. A platform lift remains folded at the bottom of the steps.The latest article on inclusive travel by Bob McKercher and Simon Darcy presents a range of barriers affecting the ability of people with disability to travel. It is classified into a four tier framework from generic to specific. Below is an excerpt from the abstract explaining more about the four tier framework:

“Previous studies tended to aggregate barriers into a single group … The failure to recognise the complex, yet subtle interplay between tourism and different types of barriers results in the tendency to see people with disabilities as a homogeneous group where a one size fits all solution applies. In reality, they are a heterogeneous cohort who face the same types of barriers as everyone, some barriers that are common to all people with disabilities, those that are unique to each disability dimension and specific impairment effects that are individualistic.

The full title of the article is “Re-conceptualizing barriers to travel by people with disabilities”, and is available from Science Direct, or directly from Simon Darcy on Research Gate.  Published in Tourism Management Perspectives.   

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