Disability and Transport - Experiences with Specialised Transport in Norway

Disability and Transport - Experiences with Specialised Transport in Norway


G Solvoll, R Amundsveen, Nordland Research Institute, NO



Disabilities in relation to transport can more precisely be mentioned as mobility handicaps, and it can be expected that approximately 12 percent of the population is disabled. However, two studies, one in Germany and one in France, estimated that at any one time between 20 and 30 percent of people travelling have mobility impairment for one reason or another, ECMT (1999). These figures show that people with mobility handicaps are a quite significant ?market segment?. This segment includes people who experience physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities, e.g. people in wheelchairs, people with ?deficiencies? related to seeing, hearing or speaking, people with allergies and elderly people in general with weakening conditions such as heart disease for whom many or all aspects of a typical journey can be extremely tiring, see e.g. ECTM (1991).

Mobility for disabled people can be improved in different ways. Independent of measures taken, an aim in most European countries is to close the accessibility gap for people with mobility handicaps in such a way that the transport service provision can fit the different users? needs. This is often referred to as universal design. This aim is also the official policy in Norway, NOU 2001:22. One way to close the mobility gap is to adapt the ordinary bus routes so that the services are fully accessible for all or most of the people wishing to use them. Another measure is to establish some sort of ?specialised transport? and offer the service to the part of the population that is excluded from conventional public transport. Between these extremes there exists a range of different feasible transport services, most of them different paratransit systems that are especially designed to meet the demand from people with different mobility handicaps, see e.g. Gillingwater and Tyler (2001).

A fully accessible public transport system will often lead to high costs per passenger combined with little accuracy in relation to the ?target group?. However, an important benefit would be the inclusion of people with mobility handicaps. On the other hand, ?specialised transport? is a very accurate initiative in relation to the target group, and such a service is also a cost efficient way to establish a transport service for people with specific mobility needs. However, such services lead to administrative costs to distinguish the users who meet the criteria for ridership from those who don?t. Such arrangements also lead to a lesser degree of integration with equal rights in society for mobility handicapped people than for others.

The aim of this paper is to discuss important issues related to the mobility of people with some sort of physical or psychological disability, and what kind of public transport services that benefit people with mobility handicaps. The empirical data used in the paper are collected from two national research projects carried out in the period 2000 to 2003 by the Nordland Research Institute, and financed by the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Norway. The first project is a study of special adapted public transport services in Norway (AT-services), which are organised as individual taxi-based door-to-door services. The AT-service was established in 1988 with the objective of giving mobility handicapped people the opportunity to participate in local social activities in the same way as their able-bodied peers. The second project focuses on the experiences from a nationwide experimental scheme established in August 2001, with the objective of offering mobility handicapped people door-to-door transport from their homes to either university or places of employment (EW-service). The scheme was initiated with the objective of filling a gap in the existing transport arrangements intended for handicapped people, and to act as an incentive for getting more disabled people to start an education or join the labour market. The data consist of two postal surveys answered by 830 respondents (project one) and 112 respondents (project two).

We have also conducted 20 in-depth interviews with disabled people of different ages, different environments (both rural and urban settlement) and various mobility handicaps.

A central part of the paper focuses on the handicapped people?s benefit of both the AT-service and the EW-service. We also discuss the personal consequences for mobility handicapped people if the services described above should be phased out or considerably reduced. The new EW-service is analysed with particular focus on the influence the service has on disabled people?s participation on the labour marked and consequently the impact on the government?s need for payment of disability benefits. In addition, we also take into consideration the benefit to mobility handicapped people who actually have a job. Because of the EW-service, they are no longer dependent on being transported to and from work by family or others. Their willingness to pay to use the EW-service rather than be driven by someone else should also be taken into account in an appraisal of the benefits from the EW-service. See e.g. Fitzgerald et. al (2000).

The design of a fully accessible public transport system, e.g. with low-floor buses, boarding and alighting facilities for wheelchair users together with improvement of bus stops, the walking environment etc., imply that still more mobility handicapped people will be able to use the ordinary transport system. In this paper we discuss, both in theory and on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis of an investment in an accessible Norwegian local bus services system, the expected economic and social consequences both for the bus companies, the mobility handicapped people and for society as a whole.

In the light of our empirical and fundamental discussions we summarise the paper with a review of the AT- and the EW-services position and importance in a future public transport system, where the transport needs for people with mobility handicaps are more strongly emphasized than today. We also introduce some political implications regarding the transport authorities? engagement in problems involved in meeting people with different mobility handicaps. Though the primary data in the paper is based on Norwegian conditions, the conclusions we propose will also have general applications for numerous European countries.

h4. References

ECTM (1991): Transport for people with mobility handicaps ? policy and achievements in Europe. European Conference of Ministers of Transport.

ECMT (1999): Improving Transport for People with Mobility Handicaps - a guide to good practice. European Conference of Ministers of Transport.

Gillingwater, D. and Tyler, N. (2001): Specialized transport. (In Button, K.J. and Hensher, D.A. (ed.): Handbook of Transport Systems and Traffic Control). Elsevier Science Ltd, 2001.

Fitzgerald, J., Shaunesey, D. and Stern, S. (2000): The effect of education programs on paratransit demand of people with disabilities. Transportation Research Part A 34 (2000), pp 261-285.

NOU 2001:22 (Official Norwegian Report) Fra bruker til borger. En strategi for nedbygging av funksjonshemmende barrierer. (From consumer to citizen. A strategy towards dismantling of barriers facing people with disabilities.) Sosial- og helsedepartementet (Ministry of Social Affairs).


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