For many years, Public Transport Authorities (PTAs) across the world have embraced inclusivity and universal access as vital components of their strategies and missions. But can hi-tech geo-contextual applications help PTAs and operators to go the extra mile in meeting their legal and moral obligations for inclusive mobility?
The rationale for inclusivity is clear – apart from the simple humanity of extending public services to all members of the community, strict legal accessibility requirements exist in most countries, many of whom also aspire to meet UN international sustainability goals – particularly goal 10 (to reduce inequalities) and goal 11 (to increase the sustainability of cities and communities).
Public transport systems can be complex to navigate, even for people without mobility and sight issues. For those who are already struggling, the challenges can seem insurmountable.
Investments amounting to billions have been made to address these challenges, commonly enabling amongst other things,
- stepless access to stations, platforms and facilities
- wheelchair-accessible public transport vehicles
- priority seating for people with visual impairments or mobility issues
- improved and more thoughtful signage and audio-visual announcements
- Integrated braille and other tactile guidance
- dedicated training for drivers and other transport staff
Often working closely with disability advocacy and action groups, many public transport providers have greatly improved their physical environment in these and other ways to make it more accessible and usable.
However, there remains considerable scope to ease and improve the journeys taken by people with disabilities, and indeed by others who don’t enjoy complete freedom of movement – such as many elderly people, parents of young children and others with special needs or temporary incapacities. For these travellers, smart software, app-based location data and vehicle sensors have the potential to greatly improve their experience.
In the Norwegian city of Drammen, for example, public transport provider Brakar has successfully trialled Kogenta’s location data solution to ensure that their buses do not sweep past blind and sight-impaired passengers who cannot easily differentiate and flag down the correct bus as it approaches their stop.
Trialling Kogenta’s location data solution in Drammen.
Passengers can monitor where suitable buses are, using audio/ verbal as well as visual cues. A self-configured permission in the passenger’s app will trigger a “priority passenger waiting” message on the bus driver’s digital dashboard.
The technology will be built into the transport operator’s travel app, making accessibility part of an integrated hi-tech service usable by anyone who may need extra help, or even just more time to board and disembark, rather than an additional ‘special needs’ app that less able passengers have to master. And as indicated above, the facility can easily be extended to other passengers whose mobility is challenged.
Accessibility app trial in Drammen, Norway.
Making platforms and vehicles accessible is important, but so is making the system aware of, and responsive to, disabled or incapacitated passengers, and allowing those passengers to fully engage with the system and with drivers. Mobility- and location-sensitive tech, with geo-contextual awareness, is proving a vital enabler to more equal, accessible and enjoyable public transport for all.