Chapter 1


Report of Thematic Group 8

The Design and Operation of Accessible Public Transport Systems



This document is the result of two years' work by the participants of the EU Helios II programme (Thematic Group 8 - 'Policies and Technical Requirements for the Adaptation of Transport). It has been written by Peter Barker from the RNIB, Pip Hesketh from Middlesex University, and Steve Smythe from Wandsworth Community Transport (contact person for Thematic Group 8).

The document is aimed at transport providers, user groups and politicians and is intended to contain practical guidance on how to achieve a transport network which is accessible to everybody.

The authors recognise that no report of this kind can succeed in being fully comprehensive. Indeed we are aware that many other examples of good practice exist which have not found their way into the report. To some extent, the choice of examples was limited by the study visit programme, which allowed us to visit six European cities over a period of two years. Despite this, the principles underlying the design and operation of accessible public transport systems have been thoroughly explored. The scope of the subject is very broad, but a decision was taken also to include the accessibility of the street environment as it is an essential element in making the whole journey accessible.


1.1 Methodology

What makes this report different from other reports on the same subject is that it is based on the practical experience of consumers of accessible transport services, as well as the knowledge and expertise of transport professionals. The main methodology used was 'information exchange'. The Helios II programme funds study visits and seminars where consumers, professionals and politicians from the different member states can meet, discuss and see examples of good practice. In the course of the programme, study visits were held in the following cities: Belfast, Lyon, Barcelona, Lisbon, Vienna, Helsinki.

Our working group contained representatives from the following countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, UK. In order to expand our information base, we devised a questionnaire (shown in Appendix D) which was also sent to the members of Thematic Group 2 (Policies and Technical Requirements for the Accessibility of the Built Environment) and contact persons from other Helios Thematic Groups with a 'transport connection' . This enabled us to consider examples of good practice from a broader range of member states.


1.2 Three Principles

 In developing the document, we identified three crucial principles which should be addressed if transport systems are to be truly accessible to everybody:

1.2.1 Any journey is composed of several elements which link together to form a transport chain. For the journey to be accessible, each element must be accessible, and so must the links between them. The design of transport interchanges is therefore crucial in making the whole system accessible.

1.2.2 The involvement of (disabled) consumers in all aspects of the design of transport systems is essential so that the design can be properly conceived, tested in operation, and refined.

1.2.3 Investment in the accessibility of public transport systems provides substantial cost savings in other areas, notably the welfare system, which itself accounts for a high proportion of public expenditure. This principle is known as 'Cross Sector Benefit'.


1.3 Accessible Transport Chains

'Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step'. For many people, the journey also ends with the first step! The investment in making transport services accessible can often be wasted if it is impossible to get to the service, or to continue the journey by another mode, because of unnecessary obstacles such as steps.

The cost of this failure is borne by the operator (who loses revenue), the welfare system (which may have to compensate for the failure by providing door-to-door transport, or increasing domiciliary services), the individual (who is dis-empowered and becomes isolated), and society in general (which loses the energy and talents of the disenfranchised traveller). Clearly then, there are commercial and fiscal benefits in designing systems as well as services which are accessible, in addition to the obvious social benefits.

In principle, each journey begins in the home, or place of residence, and the intended destination can be anywhere in the world, so the task of providing transport for a given journey can be a challenging one.

In practice, transport systems have evolved to meet the needs of changing populations. There are many different modes of terrestrial transport; walking, cycling, car, bus, rail together provide over 90% of passenger kilometres carried out by Europe's citizens. In addition, we have extensive air- and water-based transport systems. Transport systems are organised on the basis that travel patterns are to a large extent predictable and that large numbers of people can travel together more quickly and efficiently by using pre-existing routes.

Inherent in the notion of transport planning is the concept of networks. Cities are linked by a small number high speed rail services and motorways. Towns are linked to cities by a larger number of lower speed rail and road links, and so on. Within town and cities, the same principles apply: more popular routes are provided with higher priority links. In many cities, the roads and also the public transport networks are designed like spokes in a wheel, serving 'hubs', or common destinations. Larger cities or conurbations have also introduced the 'ring road' which provides direct links between suburbs, and avoids the necessity of travelling into the hub, and out again. Similarly, public transport operators have responded to demand for this type of journey by providing circular routes.

The road network and public transport systems recognise the fact that it is not feasible to provide a direct link between every set of two points on the earth's surface. In some cases, we are lucky - a bus stops outside our house, which directly serves our destination. Mostly however, we have to travel to a bus stop, wait, travel on a pre-ordained route, alight, continue on to our final destination. More complex journeys involve changing to another route, or changing to a different mode of transport. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In terms of accessibility, this means that a journey is only as accessible as its least accessible element.

If a wheelchair user happens to live on a route served by a low-floor bus, which in turn happens to serve their intended destination, their whole journey is accessible. Mostly however, some form of interchange is encountered. In addition, the information requirement is crucial, so that the traveller knows in advance how to get to the bus stop, when and how often buses will arrive, and whether they will be able to get on them when they do arrive.

In the example above, the first interchange is in moving from the street to the bus. Making the route to the bus stop accessible is therefore the first requirement, followed by the first interchange (the bus stop). A simple journey will have the same requirements at the destination, but in reverse. A more complex journey involves co-ordination. The passenger needs to be able to get from the bus stop to the next interchange. The bus schedules need to be arranged so that waiting times at the interchange are reduced. Through-ticketing reduces journey time and improves the accessibility of interchanges.

Getting to the bus stop may be possible without assistance, otherwise a door-to-door journey may be necessary. But consider the folly of travellers being driven past their inaccessible local rail station in door-to-door transport which has to take them to a more accessible rail terminus further up the line. In many European cities, this is the 'state of the art' at the moment.

The European Commission's 'Fourth Framework Transport RTD Work Programme' (DG VII) contains details of proposed research involving improved co-ordination and integration in the field of passenger and freight transport. However, there are no proposed actions suggesting that research or development is needed to improve inter-modal accessibility (in the sense of, for everybody). There is a reference to 'integration of people with special needs', in the context of research into more demand-responsive urban transport systems, but that description concludes that 'people with special needs are covered also by other EU Programmes such as COST 322, HELIOS etc.' This seems a serious oversight in what is otherwise an extensive research programme.

Ironically, there appears to be better transport co-ordination and inter-modal integration for moving goods and freight than there is for moving people! Part of the RTD Work Programme refers to 'Integrated Transport Chains' (ITC), which sounds promising, until you realise that this part of the Programme refers to goods and freight only. It is, however, interesting to note in reading this that many of the same concepts apply to co-ordinating and integrating transport chains for the movement of goods, as apply to the movement of people. For example:

'Terminal planning within the network, concerning internal layout, geographical location, organisation and equipment, movements to and from terminals; access (rail, water and highway) including geographical/environmental constraints.

'Improvement and interoperability of vehicles, roads, rails, inland waterways; quality and effectiveness of operational procedures.

'Information exchange between modes; between operations and customers and other actors in the chain; internal and open access to information; quality of information.'


1.4 Document Structure

The design and operation of accessible transport systems requires intervention in three different spheres of activity.

1.4.1 At the technical level, we can describe the design requirements of vehicles, equipment and infrastructure needed to make a journey accessible.

1.4.2 At the organisational level, we can describe how services should be run, how information should be provided, and how consumers can be involved.

1.4.3 At the political level, we can describe the laws and policies which are required to achieve integration and equality, as well as strategies to influence the implementation of such laws.

These spheres of activity overlap to a considerable degree; technical solutions on their own do not work - they need organisational expertise to make them work, and political will to encourage them. The structure of this document follows this conceptual model, and there is consequently a degree of overlap between the three main sections.

Underlying the whole document are the three principles regarding Accessible Transport Chains, Consumer Involvement and Cross Sector Benefits described above, which broadly correspond with the three main sections.

Because this document arises from an EU-funded programme, we feel that it is appropriate to conclude in Chapter Five with some 'modest proposals' for the EU to consider, so that our aim of achieving accessible public transport systems for Europe's citizens can become a reality.