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Data and app recommendations in Australian draft guide to ensure better access to public transport for disabled users

The Australian Government has released the consultation draft of a new guide to to promote complete, seamless public transport for users with disabilities. The government is seeking feedback on the draft till May 31, 2017.

The draft identifies a key role for technology to individualise journey planning by providing more options through richer datasets that communicate more than just public transport information.

The draft guide notes that the increased availability of data can help in integrating travel options with destinations, and enable the creation of personalised systems as per user needs. Data can also help staff to provide customer focused one-on-one assistance during their journey, where needed.

It also highlights that with autonomous vehicles fast becoming a reality, capacity for such vehicles to verbally as well as visually indicate their whereabouts, and to provide passengers with journey advice will have to be considered.

Greater and improved use of technology would enable public transport staff to shift to ‘high value’ activities that rely on knowledge, expertise and responsiveness. However, the draft notes that human interaction will remain a crucial element. People like to know there is someone who can help them, either in person or on the phone, a person who understands their needs and can provide the information or assistance required to facilitate the journey.

Additional data, real-time information

Journey planning tools can make use of all the below mentioned information and provide individualised planning information based on people’s needs.

Environment: Information useful for disabled individuals would include accessibility status of stops, vehicles and interchanges and information about the surrounding environment, details on facilities available at the stop/station (i.e. shelter), gradients, locations of steps, stairs, ramps(including kerb ramps), escalators and lifts, accessible car parking locations, footpath quality and continuity, gradient of ferry boarding points subject to tidal variation, and weather data.

Busyness: The inclusion of real-time information about the ‘busyness’ of the public transport system would help people decide if they want to delay their journey. Information about delays and disruptions should also be included as they occur, to allow continued planning en-route.

Arrivals: The draft guide recommends that real time information about upcoming arrivals should be provided at the stop/station in a combination of signage, audio announcements and ‘beacon’ type technology that interacts with smart devices. The Perth CAT bus system which has visual and audio real-time information on arrival of next bus and Transport for NSW’s trial of ‘beacon’ type technology are provided as examples.

Journey planning apps should also access real time information so people can use this to understand the arrival progress of services.

Return journeys: Return journey functionality should be incorporated into journey planning apps, so that it is easy to reverse a journey in the app and be guided to the relevant boarding point and service. Geolocation features should also be incorporated into apps, along with the ability to save ‘Favourite’ journeys.

In addition, according to the guide, planning information should dynamically adjust to the user’s location and the time of day (including tidal changes for ferries) to assist in identifying a return journey.

Disruptions: Creating an online space where people can discuss the accessibility of a particular stop/station/interchange can be an effective way to support continued improvement in the whole journey. This can be achieved in partnership with public transport owners and Operators. Real time information about the nature of the disruption and alternate arrangements/expected wait times should be provided via screens, audible announcements and apps.

Data formats and sources

The guide notes that tech savvy travellers often use apps for their journey planning, while others prefer to speak to customer service officers, use visual information sources, or read paper timetables and information at the public transport stop.

People with disability often have to use a number of customer service information resources, apps or other data sources to understand or confirm the accessibility of their journey.

Information about accessibility options is not always easy to find on the websites of transport providers. The guide says that links to information and journey accessibility planning tools and assistance should be consistently located on service providers’ websites. There is a reference to Web Content Accessibility guidelines (WCAG), an internationally recognised standard that documents how to make web content more accessible for people with disability. This includes 12 guidelines organised under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

User testing and training

User testing should be a key design consideration. Inclusion of people with disability is an essential part of the development and testing of new apps and tools.

Organisations offering journey planning tools and apps should also provide training sessions so people can set up and gain skills and confidence in using the apps and tools.

Public transport service providers should consider familiarisation and training sessions for people, who are switching to travel cards to help them understand how to use and top up (including setting automatic top up) their travel cards. For instance, the Adelaide Metro website has a series of videos that introduce its new smartcard ticketing system, providing information in a range of formats including spoken, plain English, subtitles, pictures and photographs with on-screen AUSLAN interpreting of all content.

Read the complete draft guide here.

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