Benefit of Measures for Universal Design in Public Transport
M D Leiren, K Skollerud, N Fearnley, J Aarhaug, Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo, NO
Measures implemented in order to improve accessibility of public transport does not only help people with disabilities, but increase the ease and attractiveness of public transport. This paper investigates how the average passenger appreciates improvements made in the public transport system. Based on focus groups and extensive surveys the paper will show whether passengers recognise improvements. If they do so have the measures had any effect on how much they travel by public transport? Do they view such measures as a general quality improvement or as special accommodations only for those with special needs? The paper will also shed light on whether and how different groups of people think differently about this.
By definition, universal design is the creation of products and environments meant to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialisation. This is a very ambitious goal, and a more pragmatic approach allows for special arrangements too (e.g. when the costs of universal solutions are too high or because of cultural heritage).
It is recognised that benefits of measures introduced in order to improve accessibility for people with special needs also have benefits for all. In the public transport sector operators report that low-floor buses and high standard stops which allow for wheelchair access enable faster and easier boarding and alighting for all passengers.
How does the average passenger appreciate improvements made in the public transport system? Do the passengers recognise improvements at all? If they recognise the improvements, have the measures had any effect on how much they travel by public transport? Do they view such measures as a general quality improvement? Or do they regard them as special accommodations only for those with special needs? Do different groups of people think differently about this?
We have conducted extensive surveys on public transport routes and terminals/stops that have been upgraded according to the principles of universal design. The approach includes a number of focus group interviews and on-board surveys in three cities. We have asked passengers how they interpret measures for universal design in public transport, the degree of awareness of such measures and how they affect their mode choice.
A very basic finding, but one with important implications for survey design related to accessibility for all, is the fact that the general traveller does not understand the terminology commonly used by planners and researchers (e.g. ?universal design?, real time information?, and ?tactile paving?). This becomes clear in focus groups. Failure to understand this can lead the researcher to misinterpret answers to written surveys. Our paper shows how different groups of passengers phrase and interpret photos of measures for universal design very differently.
In general, passengers appreciate universal design measures both as schemes fitted to improve accessibility for passengers with special needs, but also as a general standard upgrade. A simple example of this is the low-floor bus, which clearly improves the bus trip for all ? and not only wheelchair users. A more important finding, however, is that specific investments, e.g. for blind people, like Braille writing or tactile paving are not only seen as aid for the blind but are also regarded as a quality factor. For bus services, which in many cases struggle with poor image, universal design measures will not only improve accessibility for passengers with special needs, but also lift the bus? image.
Measures to improve accessibility of public transport, therefore, not only help people with disabilities, but increase the ease and attractiveness of public transport. This again impacts on patronage.
Finally, the paper sums up the evidence and point at important policy implications for future developments in universal design of public transport systems.
Association for European Transport