When universal design is not enough

A person with a wheelie walker trying to negotiate the gap between the bus and the kerb.
The gap between the kerb and the bus

Having different contractors for different parts of an infrastructure project is a risk for accessibility. It can literally fall between the cracks. Having overarching principles of universal design is not enough to ensure accessibility of interconnecting infrastructure. When different companies build stations and buses we need to make sure they join up well. This was not the case in Norway.

A conference paper explains the situation for the new Metrobuss System in Trondheim. When the construction of stations and buses was well underway, they discovered they were built to different access standards. This made is impossible for wheelchair users and others to use the new system. Norway has a reputation for promoting universal design. So what did they learn from this situation?

First, there are always challenges in implementing universal design. It’s one thing to have it on a page, and another to have it in real life. Both bus and station manufacturers followed valid guidelines. Harmonising guidelines was the first lesson. 

The people involved were lacking knowledge about the ideas an principles of universal design. Second lesson is to have user and expert involvement throughout the process. When issues arise, it is easier to find solutions before it’s too late.

A woman is getting on a bus. The footpath has a built up pad to raise the height so she can get on the bus. When universal design isn't enough.
A bus pad raises the height of the footpath

The paper describes some ‘work-arounds’ – some worked better than others. As with other projects, a ramp is not always a workable solution to patch up a design. The paper has 13 solutions specifically designed to overcome the access issues.

The title of the paper is, Universal Design in the Metrobuss System of Trondheim, Norway – Challenges and Solutions presented at the International Universal Design Conference in 2021 in Finland. It is open access or you can download the PDF version directly. 


The presentation describes challenges and possible solutions for achieving truly accessible high-class urban public transportation based on a case from Trondheim. The implemented solution did not reflect the wheelchair user’s needs– despite clearly stated ambitions for accessibility.

Ramboll conducted a study comprising a screening of the international market for relevant solutions, combined with interviews with representatives of Public transport authorities. The results were presented to the local user’s representatives, and some solutions tested on location. Based on this process, recommendations were made for short, medium, and long-term solutions.

The project highlights the need for involvement of sufficient professional knowledge of universal design in the planning phase as well as in the implementation phase.

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