Abstract: People with disabilities, including with those that are not instantly visible, often depend on public transport. This paper analyses the current issues affecting this subject in the UK, as well as provides some recommendations on how the situation could be improved.
20% of UKâ€™s population has a disability, included in that number are invisible illnesses. They are very common, and yet rarely thought about. Deafness, autism, mental issues, learning difficulties, and even blindness, can be counted as invisible disabilities. Sometimes the disability can be completely invisible, or it can vary on a day to day basis (e.g. chronic fatigue, endometriosis etc.). Although they might not be instantly apparent to everybody, they often require special adjustments. Including special adjustments in public transport which, as Hall, Le-KlaÌˆhn and Ram (2017) noted, should be accessible to everyone. But, is it?
A range of case studies investigated the topic of accessibility in transport, and overall found that people with many different disabilities struggle with communicating with the drivers/staff members, as well as with getting to the bus stops (due to the location and poor access to the information) and getting off at the right time. UK has very good accessibility of most buses, but only 75% of trains are accessible and many train stations have not been refurbished to accommodate people with special needs. Also many trains and buses do not offer audio-visual announcements.
The situation of public transport in the UK is getting worse, which can be especially detrimental to disabled people, due to their dependency on public transport (caused by the disability itself and/or their below the average income). Bus network has significantly decreased in the recent years, with some regions losing more than 20% of their coverage. The buses that do still run often only run until late afternoon, making it very difficult for many people to participate in any social events. The trains are getting more expensive every year. In 2018 they have increased by 3.8%, compared to only 2.8% of wage increase. Considering that the disabled people earn on average less than non-disabled, while also having an average of 25% higher expenses, more expensive fares can make trains completely inaccessible to them.
There are several existing schemes in the UK that aim to make public transport more accessible however, they usually have several flaws. The free bus pass issued to the elderly and the disabled people has very strict requirements for applying and it is up to each council whether it would be valid before 9.30 am (when most people go to work). The disabled persons rail card costs Â£20 per year and offers only 33% discount, the same as any other railcard. Transport for London has recently introduced â€˜provide me a seatâ€™ badge for people with invisible disabilities â€“ in hopes that it will prompt people to give up their seat. However, their usability is questionable, partially due to the design (looks similar to an employee badge) and the lack of advertisement (people do not know this scheme exists).
Beside the official schemes and apps available for the disabled people, there also some more innovative solutions being developed. Campbell et al. (2014) and Azenkot et al. (2011) developed apps aimed for the blind (and the deaf-blind in the Azenkot et al.â€™s app) that provided a range of information about accessing desired bus stops and buses. Providing a similar app nationwide could greatly improve independence of the blind and the deaf-blind.
Other recommendations that could improve the situation in the UK can include nation-wide system of purchasing online bus tickets, making fares more accessible, increasing the funding for buses to stop the cuts, audio-visual announcements in all public transport, improved training of staff, and legally recognising psychiatric assistance dogs for people with mental issues (they could help by for example calming down a person with anxiety that struggles with using crowded buses). It also should be noted that many times it is assumed that blind people can easily obtain information using Braille, where only around 1% of blind people in the UK can read it.
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Hall, C., Le-KlaÌˆhn, D. and Ram, Y. (2017). Tourism, public transport and sustainable mobility. USA: Channel View Publications.
Azenkot, S., Prasain, S., Borning, A., Fortuna, E., Ladner, R. and Wobbrock, J. (2011). Enhancing Independence and Safety for Blind and Deaf-Blind Public Transit Riders. In: CHI. ACM.