INSTITUTIONAL BARRIERS TO ACCESSIBLE PUBLIC TRANSPORT Mitchell, Christopher (Kit) Retired: 17 Tavistock Road, Fleet, Hampshire GU51 4EH

, UK Email: Abstract To be effective, accessible public transport needs much more than accessible vehicles. The infrastructure at each end of a journey must be accessible, information and directions are needed in a form that can be used by people with disabilities, the service must be affordable, the staff need to be trained to serve passengers with disabilities, the traveller needs to know the accessible service exists and how to use it, and there should not be barriers to passengers with disabilities created by rules and regulations. At least in urban areas, world-class accessible buses and metro systems are being introduced. These are usually supported by accessible infrastructure, particularly pedestrian footways with ramped kerbs. This paper, which is based on experience in southeast Asia and Britain, explores institutional factors which create barriers for disabled passengers even after the vehicles and infrastructure are accessible. In Britain there have been barriers created by operators who prohibit passengers with disabilities because it would be difficult to evacuate them in case of an emergency. Informal barriers can be created by staff behaviour, although sensitivity training help. In London, taxis have been accessible for people in wheelchairs for many years. Problems are reported of taxi drivers who are ‘unable’ to see passengers in wheelchairs. Some of the major challenges are caused by the behaviour of other road users. In Asia, motorcycles rode along and parked on accessible footways and the police were unwilling to prevent this. In addition, motorists parked at bus stops, so buses could not stop close to the kerb. Motorcycles then rode between the bus and the kerb while passengers were boarding and alighting. The solution has to be to persuade local politicians, the police and public transport operators that economic and social benefits would result from effective enforcement and better road user behaviour, even if this were unpopular, at least in the short term. Key words Institutional issues Barriers to access Regulations 1. Introduction

In some parts of the developing world, little or nothing has been done to improve the accessibility of local transport. Pedestrian footways are completely missing, not continuous or walled by kerbs 250mm or more high; there are few or no safe road

crossings for pedestrians; buses have high floors with steep steps and no handrails; buildings do not have step-free access. But in many places modern world-class infrastructure and public transport is being provided – good footways with ramps for wheelchair users, low floor buses, Bus Rapid Transit with level boarding from accessible platforms, metros such as Delhi with elevator access between levels. But this investment does not always produce the improved accessibility that would be expected. This paper suggests some of the reasons. Accessibility is often considered to be a matter of step free access to buildings and footways, plus wheelchair accessible local buses. But to be truly accessible, transport needs many more characteristics. Users need: Information Finance Users need to know that accessible routes or services exist, and how to use them Users need the funds to pay for fares and for the means to obtain information. Taxis may provide accessible transport at a premium fare, web sites provide information to those with computer access. The transport system must be physically accessible, which is where ramped footways and vehicles with level boarding come in. Users need information that is accessible, both in the sense of being available and being in a form that can be read by the user. System operators must avoid policies that exclude people with disabilities ‘For their own safety’. Staff need to be trained to recognise when people with disabilities may need help, and the skills to provide help in an appropriate way. Well trained and motivated staff can overcome deficiencies of vehicles and infrastructure. Users need a transport system that is reliable, because people with disabilities are less able to improvise when things go wrong. For an able bodied traveller, a footway blocked by a parked vehicle, rubbish or road works means stepping into the road; for a person using a wheelchair, it means a journey is impossible. Similarly, substituting a non-accessible bus can prevent travel.



Transport planners need to understand the concept of the trip chain. Any break in the chain, be it a missing kerb ramp or a pedestrian crossing that motorists do not respect, makes a whole journey impossible. Public transport operators need to make travel easy, reliable and convenient for all their passengers the first priority of management in reality, as well as in their mission statement.


‘Soft’ factors that limit accessibility

The soft factors that prevent accessibility occur all over the world. Until twenty years ago, London Transport prohibited passengers in wheelchairs using the deep underground lines, even if they were physically accessible, because of difficulty of evacuation in an emergency. Some bus operators require passengers to enter low floor buses by the forward door to pay their fare or be counted, rather than by the much more convenient centre door. Many bus operators in Britain do not provide timetables and route maps at the majority of stops, citing vandalism and the difficulty of keeping them up to date. 2.1 An example of soft factors in practice

A project to improve the accessibility of public transport in southeast Asia showed the effect of some of these issues. The local authority had an excellent programme to improve footways and pedestrian crossings, but local staff of the state agency responsible for national roads were determined to build footways with kerbs of at least 200mm and no kerb ramps, to prevent pavement parking, despite the existence of an internal technical note stating that kerbs should be limited to 150mm and implying the use of ramps where needed. When kerb ramps were fitted, motorcycles were Motorcycles on the footway ridden along the footways. The police appeared unwilling to prevent this behaviour. Similarly, ramps were used as places to park cars. The local authority used bollards to keep vehicles off footways, but anything that excluded motorcycles also excluded wheelchairs. The bollards were made of fibreglass and foam rubber, to prevent them damaging motor vehicles, following complaints from car users. In another city in Asia, reasonably well built pedestrian footways were rendered unusable by pedestrians because of retail activity and the large numbers of motorcycles parked on the footways. These forced pedestrians to walk in the road.

Parking on footways and blocking ramps

The local bus company had introduced a fleet of low floor buses. The staff were extremely well motivated to help passengers, and the senior management were determined to make their services accessible and easy for everybody to use. Despite this, buses were routinely stopping 2 metres or more from the kerb. This not only meant that passengers had to step down into the road before boarding, but allowed motor and pedal cycles to ride between the bus and the kerb while passengers were boarding or alighting.

Parked motorcycles and retail activity force pedestrians into road

The reasons for stopping away from the kerb were entirely rational for the bus drivers. The design of bus stop lay bys often made it impossible for a bus to get close to the kerb; many bus stops had pedestrian railings that blocked the doors if the bus stopped close to the kerb; and many stops had shelter roofs that projected close to the carriageway and could damage buses. In addition, because parked vehicles often made it impossible for a bus to stop close to the kerb, drivers did not get into the habit of doing so. The bus stops Motorcycle rides through a line of were the responsibility of the local authority, so passengers boarding the bus company could not modify them to make it easier for the driver to stop close to the kerb. In addition, the police appeared reluctant to enforce ‘No parking’ restrictions at bus stops. I must emphasise that the issues I saw in southeast Asia are typical of those that occur in many countries, developed and developing. They were particularly apparent in places with high quality local public transport and footway improvement programmes.


Analysing the reasons for soft factors

There are usually rational reasons for actions that reduce accessibility. People are not stupid, and these actions reflect priorities that over-ride accessibility. Thus motorists who park on kerb ramps put their own convenience ahead of the needs of other road users. Public transport companies may be subject to short term financial pressures, may put staff concerns and an ‘easy life’ ahead of tacking access limiting issues, or may be overwhelmed by bureaucratic barriers such as obtaining permission from the land owner to improve pedestrian routes around accessible metro or BRT stations.

To overcome the access barriers created by soft factors, it is necessary to analyse the reasons for the behaviour that causes the barriers. This behaviour will generally be rational, but aiming to achieve some priorities other than accessibility. Once the priorities are identified, there is a possibility of finding ways to satisfy the priorities without hindering access. 3.1 Operators regulations excluding people with disabilities

When a public transport operator introduces regulations that exclude people with disabilities, the first step must be to examine the reasons for the restriction and see whether it is sensible. For example, airlines normally do not seat people with disabilities in seats at emergency exits. This is because people with disabilities may well be unable to operate the exit in an emergency, or move quickly to avoid blocking the escape route for other passengers. This would seem to be a sensible restriction. On the other hand, until about twenty years ago London Underground prohibited travel by passengers in wheelchairs in deep underground lines because it was considered that they would cause a major problem if a train had to be evacuated after it had stopped in a tunnel between stations. When this reason was examined it became clear that in the event of an accident in a tunnel the disabled passengers would probably be a minority of those who would need assistance with evacuation. If the stoppage was due to a failure of the train, it was likely that other passengers with, for example, cardiac or respiratory difficulties, would need as much assistance as a passenger who used a wheelchair. Rational arguments of this type led London Underground to rescind the regulation. Another aspect of operator behaviour is the provision of taxi services. In London and all the large cities in Britain taxis are accessible to passengers who use wheelchairs and legislation requires a passenger in a wheelchair to be carried at no extra cost. Disabled people often report on the surprising inability of taxi drivers to see a passenger in a wheelchair hailing their taxi. It may well be that taxi drivers avoid a passenger in a wheelchair because of the extra time to board the passenger, or because of the effort involved in manually pushing a wheelchair up a ramp into the taxi. Another possible reason for taxi drivers’ reluctance to pick up passengers in wheelchairs is that many of them have not been trained to serve them and do not know what to do. There is a marked difference in Edinburgh where all the taxi drivers are trained by local disability groups in how to offer assistance. Wheelchair users visiting the city report much better levels of service. 3.2 Failure to enforce traffic regulations

An issue that occurs in virtually every country is the effect of behaviour by other road users on access for people with disabilities, and the reluctance of the police to enforce traffic regulations. A very common example of this is the use by other motorists of car park bays reserved for people with disabilities. This can make a town centre unavailable to a person who is only able to walk or assisted walk (travel in a wheelchair) a very short

distance from their car. The solution has to be a combination of education and enforcement, with penalties for offenders that are significant. Another type of misbehaviour is parking too close to bus stops, which prevents a bus getting close to the kerb at a stop. This can completely nullify the benefits that could be provided by a low floor bus. One answer is education and enforcement, but a more effective one is to build the pedestrian footway into the road at the bus stop so that the kerb at the bus stop is beyond the outer edges of vehicles parked near the stop. This also makes it much easier for the bus driver to position the bus close to and parallel with the kerb at the stop.

Bus stop that deters parking Self-enforcing bus stop support at elections. 3.3 Staff training

In Asia there are many examples of accessible pedestrian footways being barred to people with disabilities by motorcycles or other vehicles parked on the footway, or motorcycles being ridden along the footway. In one example the police were unwilling to enforce the traffic regulations that would prevent this behaviour. On analysis, it appeared that the police reluctance was because they were not being supported by local politicians. The reason the politicians did not support the police was the result of a combination of pressures from local shops and employers (to allow parking) and local voters, who expected to have traffic offences waived in return for

Staff can be trained to be more aware of the range of disabilities among potential passengers, including those that are not apparent. They can also be given the skills to approach people with disabilities, to ask whether assistance is required and how to provide assistance if needed. For example, having paper and a pencil available can make all the difference in communicating with someone who is deaf. There are techniques for guiding blind people that have been proven to work well without embarrassing the person being guided. Airlines have been particularly good at providing this type of training. There has been a tendency to focus disability awareness training on front line staff who are in contact with passengers. But it is important for this training to be provided to the highest levels of management, so that the ethos and policies of the organisation become more friendly to people with disabilities. The benefit to the organisation is that these

changes make the whole organisation more focused on serving passengers or customers, and therefore more successful commercially. 3.4 Possible ways forward

The solution appears to be a long campaign of education, to persuade local politicians and the police that better road user behaviour would produce economic benefits, for example by encouraging tourist activity. If local transport, including pedestrian routes, can be made easier and safer to use, it should ultimately produce a more pleasant society for everybody. The concept of a ‘trip chain’ is important. Journeys are from door to door, and any single inaccessible link in the route means that the whole journey is not possible for someone who needs good accessibility. In many parts of Asia, road crossings where pedestrian priority is not respected by motorists are inaccessible links in otherwise accessible pedestrian journeys. On a personal note, I have used a motor rickshaw taxi in Bangkok as the only way to cross a major road! Similarly, public transport operators need to be persuaded that it is in their commercial interest to make the provision of services that are safe, convenient and reliable for all users their first priority. For example, one of the first results of introducing low floor buses has been an increase in passenger numbers from people with children in baby buggies, who could not use the previous types of bus. In Tyne and Wear, where the first fully accessible metro railway was introduced in Britain, only about 10 per cent of those using the access routes for people with disabilities (elevators, wide gates, ramps, etc) had visible disabilities. Another issue is to persuade public transport operators, and particularly bus operators, to provide satisfactory information for passengers. Many operators are providing good information on Accessible buses serve many more web sites, but this is only available to those with than passengers using wheelchairs computers. Rail operators are providing real time information at stations, and bus operators are beginning to provide real time information and service alerts on mobile telephones and on electronic displays at a few busy stops. There is still a need for a simple map and timetable at all bus stops. In Canada, many operators display a unique telephone number at each bus stop that links to an automatic message of the times and destinations of the next few buses from that stop, real time or scheduled as available. Where buses or trains are equipped with advanced audible and visual announcement systems, it is necessary for the staff to have been trained to operate them. This is not always the case.

The examples below show the kind of simple information that is helpful for all passengers.

Route map at bus shelter Timetable and fare details at bus stop 4. Concluding discussion

In many areas, good quality accessible vehicles and infrastructure are not providing the degree of accessibility that had been expected. This is often because these investments are not part of a system to provide all the factors that accessibility requires. These factors include accessible infrastructure to and from the door at each end of a journey, information and directions in a form that can be used by people with disabilities, an affordable service, staff trained to serve passengers with disabilities, no barriers to passengers with disabilities created by rules and regulations, and the traveller needs to know the accessible service exists and how to use it. A major issue is the failure of police to enforce traffic regulations and prevent road users parking in priority bays for disabled people, parking at bus stops, parking on pedestrian footways and blocking ramped kerbs. This lack of enforcement is often the result of lack of support for enforcement by local politicians, who in turn are responding to pressures from local shop owners, employers and the electorate. The answer has to be long term education, to persuade the police, politicians and society as a whole that better road user behaviour will produce commercial benefits and a society that is more pleasant to live in. Where behaviour or regulations limit accessibility, the approach to improving the situation must start by analysing the rational behaviour of those causing the limitations. People are not stupid and have reasons for doing what they do. Once these priorities are understood, there is a chance to find ways to achieve them that also permit good accessibility. I hope that this paper encourages others to undertake more detailed analyses of what could be done to overcome the barriers created by institutional factors. This would

involve identifying how each stakeholder, such as traffic police, shop keepers, media and local politicians might be motivated. Acknowledgement I would like to thank Ann Frye and Tom Rickert for helpful suggestions during the development of this paper.