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The Buses Bill supports visually impaired passengers. Is it enough?

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The issue of bus accessibility has again been brought under the spotlight following the announcement of the Buses Bill (now the Bus Services Act 2017), which seeks to empower local transport authorities with a range of tools to improve bus services in their area.

One of the more interesting elements of the Buses Bill was the proposal to improve accessibility of services for visually impaired passengers through standardised fitting of audio-visual equipment. This is clearly a laudable suggestion, but does it go far enough?

While audio announcements will clearly assist blind and partially sighted passengers by letting them know when they should alight the bus, it is notable that they do little to overcome the difficult challenge of getting on the bus in the first place.

In fact, it is perhaps possible to suggest that the proposals are one third of a complete solution for visually impaired bus users. When we discussed this matter with Gloucestershire County Council – who recently launched a Talking App to assist visually impaired bus users – we learnt of three main challenges facing visually impaired passengers: 1) locating the nearest stop; 2) knowing when their required bus is due; and 3) understanding when to alight.

Trapezea2-1707At Trapeze we believe it is critical to tackle all three of these challenges in order to make bus travel truly accessible for visually impaired passengers – and it is of course essential to do so in a way that is cost-effective for local authorities to deliver.

We were therefore delighted to recently be invited to meet with local MP for Bath, Ben Howlett. Mr Howlett has frequently spoken on the importance of continued investment in bus projects and infrastructure within the Bath region, and recently gave his support to the Bus Services Bill’s second reading in the House of Commons.

During the meeting we discussed what could be done across the UK to cater for blind and partially-sighted passengers who face heightened challenges in navigating bus networks. We discussed the role that technology can play in making public transport more accessible for visually impaired passengers; specifically how talking apps can help users to locate bus stops, identify upcoming departures and alight at the required destination.

Meeting with Mr Howlett presented us with a great opportunity to open up a dialogue on current accessibility issues. He was incredibly receptive to our views and expressed a great deal of interest in how technology could be leveraged to deliver a fully inclusive service, particularly for blind and partially-sighted users.

One such example is Gloucestershire County Council’s new Talking App, GlosTalk, which helps visually impaired passengers in all aspects of bus travel. The app uses a Smartphone’s on-board functionality to deliver audio commands to guide the user to their nearest bus stop; provide departure information so they know which bus to use; and then once on-board it counts down to their destination so they know exactly when to alight.

The app has the advantage of being functional across the entire region without the requirement for expensive at-stop audio equipment. It also has the additional benefit of reducing reliance on older technology such as the RNIB React fob solution which broadcasts sign output in an audio manner. Using a Smartphone offers a superior solution for passengers, who don’t need to advertise their disability to those around them.

Gloucestershire County Council’s GlosTalk app is currently available for both iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) Smartphones.

Paul Attenborough, Trapeze

Paul Attenborough,
Trapeze