There are a range of factors that sit outside the public transport system but which influence the accessibility of a journey using public transport. This section highlights some of the influencing factors to be considered when planning for whole-of-journey accessible public transport.
2.1 The varied needs of users
The expectations of people with disability are just as varied as those of other public transport users—they have their own individual needs and preferences.
The availability of accessible public transport is, or should be, the key to independence and participation for many people with disability.
Some disabilities are clearly identifiable, others are not, and each person will have varying levels of comfort in talking about their access requirements. Some people require high levels of assistance, while for others, just a few small access improvements can make a world of difference to their journey.
Everyone involved in the provision of accessible public transport has a responsibility to understand and respect these differences as they work towards enabling transport users to more easily participate in and travel through the built environment.
Accessibility should be top of mind in our decision-making, not an afterthought when faced with compliance requirements. This thinking will benefit all users, not just those with accessibility requirements.
2.2 Universal design considerations
“Taking a universal design approach to programs, services and facilities is an effective way to remove barriers that exclude people with disability. Universal design allows everyone, to the greatest extent possible, and regardless of age or disability, to use buildings, transport, products and services without the need for specialised or adapted features.
The principles of universal design can also be applied to the design of programs run by government, businesses and non-government organisations. This will result in greater efficiency by maximising the number of people who can use and access a program without the need for costly add-ons or specialised assistance.
Universal design assists everyone, not just people with disability. For example, wider doorways are better for people with prams, while decals on fully glazed doors help to keep everyone safe. Providing information in plain language can assist people who speak English as a second language and people with low literacy. As the population ages, the presence of disability will increase, and adopting a universal design approach will become even more important.”
Important elements of universal design (based on Audirac, 2008) include:
- Accessible design: designing for equal useability for all with regard to mobility, facilities, devices and services, and incorporating disability access standards.
- Inclusive design: designing products and services for the needs of the widest possible audience.
- User-centred design: placing users" perspectives and needs at the centre of the design process.
- Barrier-free design: constructing or retro-fitting infrastructure and vehicles to eliminate barriers and obstacles that would otherwise restrict the range of users and purposes for which the space can be used.
- Trans-generational design: improving quality of life for people of all ages and level of mobility both now and into the future.
- Assistive technology: engineering that supports improved access for people with disability to complete tasks by increasing, maintaining or improving the functional capabilities and independence to facilitate accessibility and participation.
The Australian Local Government Association's Disability Inclusion Planning: A Guide for Local Government9 (October 2016) is a valuable tool for integrating disability inclusion planning within organisations.
While it was developed for use by councils, it also provides a more general resource to inform design matters in the context of the National Disability Strategy 2010–202010 (NDS), the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme11 and responding to the requirements of state, territory and Commonwealth legislation and policy. The guide's suggested steps for disability inclusion action planning are:
- allocate responsibility
- consult with the community and staff
- map your operating environment
- determine governance and accountability
- develop strategies and actions
- develop a monitoring, evaluation and reporting strategy
- publish, promote and implement the plan.
2.3 Drivers of change
Some key trends and issues shaping the future of transport in Australia will also influence public transport journeys.
Population: Australia's population is growing strongly and the age structure of the population will change. For example the number of Australians aged over 75 years will increase from 6.4 per cent to more than 14 per cent of the population by 2060. Generation Y and later generations will comprise an increasing proportion of the workforce and may more likely embrace developing transport options, including on-demand and tailored transport services12. These changes will impact on public transport networks in terms of needs and preferences and give added urgency to the need to ensure greater public transport accessibility at all stages of people's journeys.
Economic trends: Trends in per capita wealth and income will influence the communities ability to sustainably fund accessible public transport. For example, the growth of night/weekend economies has the potential to change transport demand. Ensuring best value for money for accessible services in these situations will be important13.
Awareness: increasing awareness and understanding of what is required for people with disability, as well as emerging opportunities to improve accessibility, is increasing expectations of people with disability, the community, industry and government14.
Climate change: changes in our climate are expected to result in more extreme weather events such as heatwaves and storms. This creates potential for greater disruption to public transport services and a higher demand for weather protection to address these extremes. It will require greater redundancy and flexibility in the transport systems to manage climate related disruption. It will also affect infrastructure provision in relation to the design of public transport bus stops, platforms, terminals and footpaths15.
Digital connectivity and big data: the increasing digitalisation of transport information, ticketing and services is leading to techno-reliance and reduced staffing levels both on public transport services (with the introduction of driverless trains for instance) as well as the introduction of new transport modes such as car-sharing services and autonomous vehicles.
The increasing availability of data can help us better understand customers and their trips, more effectively integrate travel options with destinations, and enable systems to be designed for user needs and their desired experience. Data can also enable staff to provide customer focused one-on-one assistance during their journey where needed.
Innovation and technology: this is a rapidly evolving area of opportunity for both people with disability and public transport providers to facilitate whole journey outcomes.
For example, autonomous vehicles that sense the environment and navigate without human input are no longer science fiction. These are expected to have a significant impact on future public transport delivery. Important considerations include the capacity for such vehicles to indicate their whereabouts verbally as well as visually, and to provide passengers with journey advice.
Future transport on-demand services will also make journeys more accessible. Coupled with first-mile, last-mile connectivity that is currently operating elsewhere in the world, a shift in the balance between set services and flexible transport-on-demand options can be expected16.
Urbanisation: Australia is highly urbanised, with more than 90 per cent of the population living in urban areas. Urbanisation with integrated, inclusive and iterative planning can provide great opportunities to citizens in terms of culture, commerce and productivity. The complexity of cities however creates challenges, including urban sprawl, increasing traffic congestion, car-reliance and decreasing rural populations. These will have implications for public transport accessibility.
Other possible drivers might include:
- Increasing connectivity of transport users in terms of apps and real time communication between users.
- Real-time monitoring of video surveillance equipment and access to public address systems.
- The effect of technology on infrastructure management practices and staffing.
2.4 Urban design
The design of the urban environment, streets and the layout of building structures form
the foundation of movement networks in cities and regional areas. As identified in the Urban Design Compendium17 a good movement framework:
- provides the maximum choice for how people will make their journeys
- takes full account of the kinds of movement a development will generate
- makes clear connections to existing routes and facilities.
Applying good urban design principles to spaces that form part of a public transport journey—such as origins and destinations, public transport interchanges and the streets in between—are critical factors that contribute to the quality and character of a user's experience of their journey. Adopting urban design principles, such as supporting active and interesting building façades that put ‘eyes on the streets’ can enhance an area's sense of security and safety.
Good urban design can also support wayfinding. Through visual cues in the environment, such as landmarks, views and vistas, and permeable street blocks, a journey's start and end in particular becomes more comfortable and safe with a clear network of routes and paths. It also provides an opportunity to encourage development of public transport multifunctional interchanges that are passenger friendly and maximise the journey experience18.
2.5 Integrated planning
Integrated planning recognises that a city or regional area is supported and governed by the interrelationships between physical infrastructure, people and the context of a place. Cities and towns are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, productivity and social development. An integrated planning approach considers the design of transport networks within the context of the opportunities that cities and regional areas can bring.
Maximising the integration of land use planning and transport planning provides the best opportunity to enhance the accessibility of an area, and enhance a user's experience of the whole journey. This also enables streets to be considered as public spaces that feel safe, comfortable and are a delight to experience.
New (greenfield) developments versus existing or old (brownfield) situations pose varied challenges. Greenfield sites provide opportunities to achieve best practice accessibility informed by disability advisory groups (see figure 14). Improving accessibility of existing facilities, particularly those with heritage classification or engineering constraints, can pose significant challenges and costs. Working with disability advisory groups in these situations is particularly important, and frequently enables solutions to be found that best meet the needs of all parties involved.
An integrated planning process also considers the design of places in the context of human behaviour and experience. This approach brings a truly holistic perspective to the planning and design of public transport. It brings focus to users" journeys and their interactions with the environment during these journeys.
2.6 Governance and management of places
A range of stakeholders are involved in planning, designing, procuring/purchasing, constructing, certifying, operating and maintaining, and redeveloping public transport systems and their surrounds.
These stakeholders are often restricted by issues such as geographic boundaries, land ownership, scope of work, budgets, separate approval processes and other issues that effectively ‘divide up’ public space and aspects of the public transport system. This division means people often only focus on their piece of the puzzle, rather than the complete picture.
Effective governance and management of precincts and places that interface with public transport is an important aspect of creating whole public transport journeys. A clear vision for the whole will lead to more pieces fitting together to provide better accessibility.
Public transport accessibility is the key to creating equitable environments where everyone can access and benefit from the full range of opportunities available in our society. A seamless and enjoyable public transport journey can enable greater access to jobs, healthcare, education and other services.
Urbanists like Jan Gehl of Gehl Architects are encouraging conversations that focus on the relationship between the shape of cities and their impact on quality of life. Such thought leaders advocate strongly for investment in high quality public spaces (including street networks) with connected and accessible public transport networks.
“For cities to be liveable, people need to have freedom of choice in terms of mobility. According to what your daily needs are, you can walk, you can bicycle, you can take public transport,” Jan Gehl, Gehl Architects.
12 Brisbane City Council submission on the draft guide.
13 Association of Consultants in Access Australia submission on the draft guide.
14 John McPherson submission on the draft guide.
15 Ms Mandy Dunn submission on the draft guide.
16 Transdev Australia submission to the draft guide.
18 Brisbane City Council submission on the draft guide.