The UK Department for Transport commissioned this research project to enable an assessment of the travel information needs of disabled people. This was in line with the Government’s current emphasis on reducing the social exclusion of certain groups of people, including disabled people. The poor accessibility of Public Transport had discriminated considerably against people who are older and/or disabled, more especially as these people had been less likely to have access to a private car. Whilst improvements to the accessibility of public transport can play a leading role in promoting social inclusion, it is just as important that potential disabled travellers should have access to information about accessible public transport services, and that this information should itself be available in an accessible format.
"Transport Direct" (www.transportdirect.info) is a free online route/journey planner for public transport and car journeys in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). It is operated by a private consortium and funded by the UK Department for Transport, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government.
"traveline" (www.traveline.org.uk) is a national telephone enquiry service and online journey planner for public transport on a regional basis covering the whole of the UK.
Steered by a Project Board representing traveline and Transport Direct stakeholders, the research was based on four objectives:
- To review legal obligations on transport operators and information providers to provide travel information to disabled people
- To assess the extent to which providing better travel information to disabled people would encourage them to make greater use of public transport
- To assess disabled people’s travel information requirements
- To examine whether information services like traveline and Transport Direct are the most effective providers of the information that disabled people need, or whether it might be better provided by a specialist organisation.
Investigation of the travel information needs of disabled people was carried out to a large extent by means of 13 focus groups. These were held in four locations in Great Britain, and represented three broad groups of disabled people: blind and partially sighted people, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with physical mobility impairments. There was also a single focus group involving people with learning disabilities.
In addition, a consultation exercise, involving a range of stakeholders, was carried out.
A general finding from the qualitative research was that there was generally an inverse relationship between people’s propensity to be able to travel confidently and independently, and the importance of the requirement for pre-trip information. Focus group participants who tended to be the most independent and confident travellers were people who were deaf or hard of hearing – many of whom were regular car drivers – and their responses indicated that the availability or non-availability of pre-trip information was unlikely to be crucial to whether they would travel or not. In fact, there was more of a desire for information during a trip among deaf or hard of hearing participants.
According to the findings of the focus groups, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who are blind or partially sighted, people with a physical mobility impairment, and then people with learning disabilities, can be placed in order of both increasing dependency in relation to travel, and the increasing importance of pre-trip travel information.
The groups also revealed that, whilst disabled people’s experience of public transport is that it is often inaccessible and of poor quality, difficulties in obtaining information about the accessibility of services tend to add to their problems when travelling, and make them less inclined to use public transport.
A major conclusion was that information providers should at least have the strategic objective of providing certain items of information of particular importance to disabled people, including,
- The availability of (accessible) toilets
- The availability of assistance for disabled people from staff at stops and stations
- The accessibility of individual stops and stations
- The accessibility of vehicles normally used on a route
- Contact details of taxi companies serving major stops and stations
- Contact details of specialist organisations that might help disabled people with requirements that are beyond the scope of traveline and Transport Direct
A more immediate priority, however, was that traveline Call Centres should be able to give out information that is deemed to be “essential” for disabled people when they plan to undertake a journey, (provided that it can be readily collected, and at a reasonable cost). Such information included the general availability of assistance, and the general accessibility of vehicles and infrastructure, at defined stations and on defined routes, and the availability of taxis.
An equal priority specified in recommendations was that efforts should be made to provide better publicity for both information services; the research had demonstrated a consistent lack of awareness of both traveline and Transport Direct among disabled members of the public.
Discussions of whether there were a case for some items of information to be provided by a specialist organisation highlighted a fundamental difference in the service offered by traveline and that provided by TRIPSCOPE. Once it is clear precisely which aspects of information provision for disabled people cannot easily be provided by “mainstream” travel information services, this niche should be filled by a specialist organisation with a national profile.
Further policy recommendations from the research were:
- The providers of traveline and Transport Direct should raise awareness of the services through national and local organisations representing disabled people
- Call Centre staff should be trained to expect that some callers might take longer to make their request for information clear, take longer to note down information that is given and/or have problems understanding the details given t