Innovation in the transport sector provides endless opportunities to improve the passenger experience, boost productivity and even stimulate economic growth.
It also has the potential to transform lives – particularly for the 14m people in the UK with disabilities, by helping them access transport services. Whilst a simple part of life that many of us take for granted, easy and convenient access to transport is for so many a barrier they can’t overcome. This limits their ability to do the basic everyday things such as access public services, go to work or see family and friends.
The Government’s recent ‘Inclusive Transport Strategy’ marks a big step towards developing a transport system that works for all passengers in the UK. The strategy underpins the Government’s ambition to offer equal access for disabled people by 2030, and sets out a plan to ensure all future transport technologies are developed with inclusivity embedded into their design. The strategy commits £300 million of funding to improve the accessibility of the railway system until 2024, as well as setting an ambition to build in accessibility considerations into franchise competition. The plan also aims to ensure future technology is designed in collaboration with disabled people and representative organisations.
According to the National Travel Survey, adults with a disability make nearly a third fewer trips than adults without a disability, and even lower proportions of disabled people travel by rail and the underground compared to non-disabled people. There are also many more people who struggle with travelling on these networks for health and mental health reasons. Having access to a reliable wireless network on the rail and underground network could transform their journey experience.
Over the past few years, new technologies and applications have been developed to boost mobility and accessibility for people with disabilities. Apps providing real time information on crowding or congestion levels, lift access and service updates, can be life-changing. So too can audio-navigation, helping disabled people and people with learning disabilities make their way around an unfamiliar station safely. However, much of this innovation is reliant on wireless connectivity if it is to be deployed.
Similar technology can be used to help passengers feel safer. In Toronto, BAI Communications provided the wireless network that enabled the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to launch SafeTTC, a mobile app that offers subway users the ability to report suspicious activities and harassment. With disabled passengers saying concerns over crime and anti-social behaviour affect their frequency of travel on the rail network, a similar app in the UK could give many more people the confidence to go about their daily journeys.
We know the ambition is to develop a future transport network that is able to connect everyone in society, particularly those who struggle the most with access. Unlocking the potential of wireless connectivity would provide the key to delivering a truly inclusive transport system. Collaboration between industry, policymakers and the third sector will be vital if we are to develop the infrastructure needed to achieve this innovation and ensure accessibility is fundamental to its design. The ambition has been set, we now need to work together to deliver it. The journey begins now.