The past few years have seen some major improvements in accessibility on transport. The Equality Act guarantees that transport providers will make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers, while a 2017 supreme court judgment pledged to increase rights for wheelchair users on bus travel.
Private coach companies, however, are still lagging behind in providing safe, comfortable travel for everyone. This is a major issue for disabled people, not to mention a negative reflection on the industry as a whole. After all, if travel isn’t open to everyone, passengers will begin to look elsewhere. Thankfully, there’s a glut of new solutions to improve your own company’s standards of accessibility. Read on for some simple but effective tips to increase accessibility on your vehicles and create a more inclusive travel experience for everyone.
Integrating accessible features
Most coach companies rent or buy their coaches, and so have little say in the design features. However, should you be in a position to have some input in the layout onboard your coaches, there are some key features to consider in order to optimise accessibility.
For starters, make sure stop buttons are within reach for everyone. Placing clear, height-appropriate buttons that allow passengers to alert the driver – whether to stop the bus or for assistance – should be a no-brainer, and go hand in hand with support rails/handles that should be included as standard. Secondly, try to dedicate the front few rows on your coach to priority seating. This doesn’t mean the seating has to be entirely off-limits to other passengers. Instead, ensure signs are clearly displayed alerting passengers that they will be asked to move in the event a disabled passenger requires a seat.
It’s vital to include ample space for at least one wheelchair in the seating layout. Likewise, extendable ramps are essential to enable passengers with mobility issues to board, while in-built wheelchair lifts can be crucial to a safe and efficient boarding process.
When taking steps to improve accessibility on your coach service, the first aspect to consider is often the most overlooked. Before passengers begin to use your service, they’ll likely take a look at your website. That’s why it’s vital your website lays out exactly what amenities you have available to assist passengers with disabilities. Remember, clarity is key to avoiding complaints.
Many transport networks now include an option to specify in advance if any passengers have a disability. This way, the transport providers can prepare vehicles and staff in advance to ensure a simple, straightforward boarding process for everyone.
Before sending new drivers out on the road, make sure they know the protocol for boarding passengers with disabilities and mobility issues. Even if you have access for wheelchairs and mobility scooters on your coaches, you must be clear if there are other restrictions for onboard amenities. Are the toilets accessible? Are there adequate safety precautions in place in the event of an evacuation? By being up-front, you can avoid disappointed passengers and maintain brand trust.
Buses are the most commonly used type of public transport by Londoners with disabilities; with 91% of learning disabled Londoners stating that they use buses regularly over a 12-month period.
When it comes to boarding your transport, the requirements differ from passenger to passenger. For drivers, it’s important to respect the individual requirements and wishes of each passenger. Some people prefer to be boarded first in order to secure a seat, while others may ask to board after everyone else.
The Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) 2002 require bus drivers to provide reasonable assistance to disabled people, including wheelchair users, to board and alight. While these regulations only apply to vehicles regulated under the PSVAR, bus companies from all parts of the industry should consider adopting these practices for vehicles.
There are also a number of initiatives underway to educate drivers and members of the public in how best to assist disabled passengers. Training days, in which recognised accessibility advocates talk your staff through the different forms of assistance to offer passengers, can go a long way to clearing up the confusion.
Recognising hidden disabilities
Of course, there are many different forms of disability, some of which aren’t immediately obvious. Some passengers may have hearing aids or be partially sighted. Similarly, passengers with learning disabilities may face problems in navigating timetables and fare information. Others may suffer from muscular issues that don’t require a wheelchair but will still require a ramp and a seat close to the front of the bus.
Initiatives to increase awareness around these ‘hidden disabilities’ have gained momentum in the past decade (including the Blue Badge program in the UK), but coach companies are not necessarily bound to recognise these symbols. Instead, it’s important to ensure your drivers are aware in advance of any requirements. If this isn’t possible, then even a simple instruction to make any requirements known to the driver at the point of boarding can allow everyone to board safely.
Clearly identify the disabled seating locations on your vehicles, with disclaimers explaining that non-disabled passengers may be expected to vacate their seat in the event it is needed by somebody with a disability. Drivers play a key role in ensuring these practices are maintained, so make sure every member of your team is aware of the protocol.
Additionally, new technologies are stepping in to provide additional support to passengers with hearing and sight difficulties. We’ve talked before about the potential of tech like the vibrating wristband to aid passengers with hearing and visual impairments, but the simplest solution for transport companies could lie in integrating with existing technologies. In California, for instance, researchers developed an app to help blind bus passengers navigate routes to their destination. The app doesn’t even require GPS, needing only a WiFi connection. The app alerts passengers to where to go for a specific service and them alerts them in advance when they’re approaching their stop. Even Google Maps now comes with an option to alert passengers when they are approaching their stop.
Of course, many coach companies may find such integrations costly and unnecessary, particularly if they run a ‘one-stop’ single destination service. That doesn’t mean, however, that, they shouldn’t consider methods to make journey’s easier and more accessible. For instance, the Assist-Mi app allows passengers to request assistance on arrival. Provided coach companies can accurately state where their service will terminate, passengers can schedule assistance to be waiting for them when they arrive. Of course, if the coach company wanted to go the extra mile in their service, they could integrate options for passengers in need of assistance to automatically contact the Assist-mi app. In doing so, passengers could be assured of assistance on arrival and the coach company could further build their reputation as an innovative business that’s accessible to all.
Of course, people with disabilities just want the same things as any other passenger – to be treated with respect and dignity and to be assured of the same level of accessibility as everyone else. If your drivers and facilities are capable of ensuring this, your transport network will earn its status as a safe, comfortable and inclusive organisation.