Research into the Travel Requirements of Older People and People with Disabilities
Carry Stephenson, SYSTRA, Liz Boast, SYSTRA, Evelyn Robertson, SYSTRA
Qualitative research with stakeholders and elderly and disabled residents, to understand their views on transport options and priorities for improvement. The findings feed into Centro’s review of accessible transport services in the West Midlands.
Centro is reviewing its provision of accessible transport services across the West Midlands, and commissioned SYSTRA Ltd to undertake qualitative research with elderly and disabled residents, and with various stakeholders, in order to understand their views on available transport options and their priorities for improvement.
The research comprised a series of 15 focus and mini groups with elderly and disabled residents across the West Midlands, including people with mobility disabilities; learning disabilities; mental health problems; visual impairments; those who are deaf/hard of hearing, and carers of people with a range of disabilities. It also involved in-depth interviews with a wide range of stakeholder groups, including local authorities; health authorities; transport operators; community transport groups; taxi licensers, and taxi operators.
Summary of Findings
Many of the transport options that are currently available have good accessibility, that has notably improved in recent years, with a number of different features praised and highly valued by residents of the West Midlands with accessibility requirements.
However, the current transport options available also have multiple barriers to use and are not fully accessible for all elderly people and people with disabilities. This results in private transport (cars) being the preferred option, even if this means relying on a carer or family member, and resultant loss of independence.
Suggestions for improvement to current transport provision were varied and numerous, with some easier to implement quickly with minimal expenditure, and others requiring larger infrastructure and vehicle design improvements, incurring higher costs and longer time periods.
Some potential new schemes were described to participants during the focus groups, all of which were being trialled or implemented in the West Midlands or other parts of the UK. These were generally supported by participants although none were received as fully perfected schemes - each one was met with ideas for improvement.
There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach for delivering accessible transport to elderly and disabled residents in the West Midlands. Participants and stakeholders highlighted the importance of having a range of affordable, accessible transport options available, with good geographic coverage, which ensure that everybody’s needs are catered for. This enables access to employment, services and social activities, and in so doing promotes social inclusion, independence, healthy lifestyles, and improved quality of life.
The research provides participants specific suggestions for improvements to existing services and their views on some initiatives currently in operation or being trialled in other areas. However the availability of funding for transport improvements is not unlimited, and as such the desired improvements for making transport more accessible need to be prioritised. In order to ensure the needs of all groups are met, efforts need to be focussed on improvements with the greatest potential to make a difference, while ensuring sufficient choice is available. ‘Simple’ fixes could be applied in the short to medium term, such as equipping vehicles with safety straps, providing regular top up training for drivers, promoting services better, and providing more assistance to vulnerable passengers. While these are all very positive steps, the accessibility of the transport infrastructure and vehicles cannot be forgotten.
Based on the findings from this study it is clear that whichever improvements are taken forward, key to their success will be:
• A choice of well co-ordinated transport options which are affordable, accessible to all, have good geographic coverage, and which together, meet the differing needs of all elderly and disabled people;
• Well trained staff and drivers: provided with initial and regular top-up training, both in terms of their standard role and responsibilities, and in disability awareness;
• Well advertised services: promoted to all groups in a clear, accurate and accessible format;
• Greater focus on assisting vulnerable passengers: in particular, schemes to help more vulnerable people become familiar with what transport options are available to them, and to help them use transport and ticketing systems;
• Consulting: with relevant organisations and community groups on new vehicles, schemes or services;
• Monitoring quality of services, and
• Greater/ improved partnership working between all relevant organisations.
The findings of the research have been used by Centro to develop a future strategy to ensure the provision of accessible transport across the West Midlands better meets the needs of older and disabled people. This work is in progress. The findings have also flagged up the need to develop a digital strategy which includes providing support for people who require assistance. The development of this strategy is also now in progress.
Association for European Transport