As users, planners, designers, policy makers, certifiers and operators of public transport services and infrastructure, we all have a role to play in creating accessible public transport journeys.
The Transport Standards provide a set of minimum requirements for compliance, but as can be seen in Part 3 of this guide, there is a great deal more to accessibility than just compliance with the standards.
This section of The Whole Journey: a guide for thinking beyond compliance to create accessible public transport journeys, provides a set of key principles drawn from the discussion on the journey parts.
4.1 We all influence accessible public transport
It is clear that an accessible public transport journey requires more than just infrastructure and conveyances that comply with the Transport Standards. The success of a journey also relies on accessible surroundings, built environments and positive interactions with people along the way.
Even if you are not directly involved in planning, designing and operating public transport, you often have an indirect influence on public transport accessibility through planning, design, construction, implementation/operation of policy, public realm, land use planning, roads, buildings, structures, events, customer service and other parts of everyday life.
This puzzle of planning, design and operational elements needs to fit together and complement each other to facilitate accessible journeys.
4.2 Focus on human-centred design
We plan, design and operate public transport for people and the journeys they take. Rather than just focusing on the infrastructure piece we are responsible for, we need to think about the journey it facilitates. This is a change of mindset, from what needs to be done to comply with standards, to what needs to be done to best facilitate accessibility. It means thinking beyond compliance, beyond the boundary and beyond the scope of your project in partnership with transport users.
At the same time implementation approaches need to be multi-faceted to ensure they reflect the varied needs of users and are accessible for all individuals, including people with disabilities, regardless of their disability49.
By taking this approach, accessibility, universal design and human-centred design considerations are brought to the forefront rather than being an afterthought. It's about people and their journeys, not just public transport infrastructure.
4.3 Accessible formats, data, apps and technology
Accessing information during all stages of the journey is critical. Presentation formats require a fit-for-purpose approach to meet the diverse range of accessibility needs, for example, large print, Braille, audio, and pictograms. Multilingual format also needs to be assessed. High quality presentation and delivery is essential, and information must be clear and concise regardless of whether it is visual, audio or another format.
With technology we have the opportunity to better document and understand our world. Big Data, the Internet of Things, smart devices and apps are changing the way we consume and create information. As a result, we can expect to see more options to individualise journey planning through richer datasets that communicate more than just public transport information.
Creating and sharing data about the built and natural environment is an important aspect of providing higher quality journey planning, or ‘journey management’ tools. Some of this information will come from sources outside the public transport environment such as weather authorities, local government or transport authorities. We need to encourage the creation, certification and sharing of data to facilitate accessible journeys.
We also need to address accessibility within the digital realm by ensuring digital tools can be used by people with varied needs. Data from transport users can also be used to quickly identify access problems faced during journeys.
However, technology still needs to be seen as one of a suite of accessibly tools and options. For some users, technology solutions are not appropriate for economic or practical reasons.
4.4 Maintaining the human touch
Digital technologies are influencing lifestyles, providing greater opportunities for access to and exchange of information, and connections to social and online networks. Experiences in our lifestyles are not purely digital, or purely physical. In the public transport system, digital technologies provide the opportunity for public transport staff to shift to ‘high value’ activities that rely on knowledge, expertise and responsiveness. Human interaction will remain a crucial element to facilitate accessible public transport journeys. We can"t just design out the need for customer service people and support by implementing technology based solutions, and expect that this alone will facilitate accessibility.
People like to know there is someone who can help them, either in person or on the phone. That person must understand their needs and be able to provide the information or assistance required to facilitate the journey. This means taking time to understand your customers" needs at all parts of the journey.
Proactive, individualised, ‘concierge’ type customer service is proving a successful strategy in other industries (such as retail and banking). These services provide direct human interaction if needed and a degree of confidence and reassurance for customers. Such services can also help maintain customer service standards even if there are fewer staff.
4.5 Infrastructure lifecycle from planning/procurement to decommissioning
Many designers, planners, engineers and stakeholders play a part in planning, designing, tendering/procuring, purchasing/contracting, constructing, certifying operation and maintaining/redeveloping public transport systems. These people enter and exit the project lifecycle as appropriate and are generally focused on the part they have to play. However, they all need to be focused on creating an accessible public transport journey, regardless of the project stage or their specific role.
Budgets need to be sufficient to meet accessibility requirements50 and cost-benefit tools should be applied to ensure maximum benefit51. Decisions made during planning and procurement, such as the choice of rolling stock, the height of platforms, the location and method of vertical transportation, and interface with the precinct, can have a lasting accessibility legacy for future operators and users of the public transport service.
Accessibility needs to be addressed early in the project lifecycle—and consistently throughout the project—through comprehensive engagement with people who will participate in future project stages, including transport user groups. This should include pre-procurement consultation with key disability stakeholders to ensure that accessible systems, fixtures and facilities are incorporated at the design stage.
Customer focused performance criteria should also be built into all stages of projects.
4.6 Communicate, don"t correspond
Clear and consistent communication is key to understanding and resolving issues, negotiating outcomes and creating more accessible public transport journeys.
Create a dialogue with user groups about their requirements, talk to people who are responsible for environments surrounding your project, engage with people who will inherit your decisions, share lessons learnt and research outcomes with your peers, and discuss user issues before they escalate into major problems.
By communicating and engaging with people, we better understand the issues and opportunities, and can make more informed decisions that take whole-of-journey accessibility into consideration.
We also allow others to understand the issues and opportunities we face and move towards a place of mutual understanding.
4.7 Knowledge capture and sharing
Around the country and the world, people are doing great work to facilitate accessible public transport journeys. We need to better capture and share the accessibility hits and misses so people can build from this knowledge rather than starting from scratch.
To do this we need to communicate, build and maintain networks, evaluate and monitor accessibility and work with user groups to understand the success—or not—of an accessibility outcome.
4.8 Accessibility when things go wrong
Planned and unplanned disruptions to the public transport network and the surrounding environment are key barriers.
We need to better plan for and manage disruption to ensure accessibility is at the forefront, not an afterthought.
We also need to consider how disruption outside the public transport system impacts people's journeys, and put in place appropriate management strategies to limit this impact.
49 Cerebral Palsy Support Network submission on the draft guide.
50 Queenslanders with Disability Network submission on the draft guide.
51 Department of Transport and Main Roads (Qld) submission on the draft guide.