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Accessibility and Usability of Public Transport System for the Elderly

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Mobility is an inevitable part of life and an important component of the well-being of older citizens (Green, Jones & Roberts, 2013, p. 1). It is widely believed that when people get older, an active lifestyle and participation in social life become very important to maintain appropriate life quality and good health. Modern society is extremely dependent on transportation. The need for traveling has made life more difficult, especially for older people and those who suffer from different disabilities (Petzäll, 1995, p. 343). Traveling is an essential aspect of the economic well-being of people. Hence, it is extremely important, economically and socially, to improve transport conditions for older people. Better transportation makes the elderly more mobile (Su & Bell, 2009, p. 46).

Green, Jones & Roberts (2013) studied the well-being and mobility at older ages using an empirical exploration of the free bus travel meanings for older people. They addressed these meanings for older citizens in urban settings taking London as a case study. It was stated that in London older people had free access to a relatively extensive network of public transport through a Freedom Pass. The scientists explored the linkage mechanisms between well-being determinants and travel benefits. According to the authors, the Freedom Pass provides access to essential goods and services as well as widely prized mechanism of participation in the city life. It was argued that the linking mechanisms between mobility and wellbeing were materially, culturally, and politically specific. It was concluded that free travel on public transport was highly significant in limiting of transport exclusion for many older people in London (p. 20).

Wretstrand, Svensson, Fristedt, & Falkmer (2009) gave a number of transportation factors in Sweden which were the matter of concern among older and disabled people. Questionnaires were used to study the access to the available travel opportunities of older people. The results of the study demonstrated reduced outdoor mobility (p. 61). It was concluded that older people appreciate the existing travel opportunities. In addition, restricted mobility is prevalent in some older groups because of perceived barriers. The scientists are convinced that more efforts should be directed in the sphere of usability and accessibility of public transit for older people (p. 63) as well as improvement in passenger safety (Hundenski, 1992).

Petzäll (1993) carried out research in Sweden aiming to adapt buses to the ambulant requirements of disabled people. With the help of experimental study the scientist tried different seats and entrances. A bus was rebuilt and equipped with new seating arrangements and appropriate entrance to enable the experiment. Participants of the experiment were slightly ambulant disabled (ordinary elderly people), less seriously ambulant disabled (people who normally travel with the special service of transportation) and seriously ambulant disabled (people who have severe ambulatory difficulties in their daily life). The data were received through interviews, observations, photographs and timing with a stopwatch. The study results showed that well-designed handrails and low similar steps to the bus entrance made alighting and boarding easier. It appeared to be important that the seat trials have suitable grab rails which help passengers pull or heave themselves up. The results of the study were used by the Swedish Board of Transport while working out regulations for the adaptation of public transport vehicles to be used by disabled people. Another experimental study of finding suitable dimensions of the car entrances used in taxi service for disabled people was presented by the same scientist in 1995. The scientist made the registration by interviews, observation and video-filming. The actions and different phase duration during the entering and exiting were thoroughly analyzed via the video-films. It was found that ambulant disabled people and those who are confined to wheelchairs needed the same entrance dimensions. Hence, the author presented suitable dimensions for the front car entrances to suit people with mobility impairments. The work also defined entrance requirements of cars used in the taxi service as it is important for passengers to enter and leave the car easily, quickly and comfortably (Petzäll, 1995, p. 351).

Hundenski (1992) conducted an analysis of accidents that occur to passengers aboard transit vehicles. He studied the accidents which had happened in San Francisco Municipal Railway in 1989. The results of the analysis indicated that passengers were more often struck or caught by vehicle doors when they alighted from vehicles with inwardly opening doors. Incidence rates for various accident types were computed by passenger age and vehicle type. The received data showed that a great number of steps leads to the greater risk of fall . It was concluded that greater reinforcement is needed to provide proper positioning of the coach close to the curb in order to facilitate alighting and boarding needs (p. 142). A key factor in improving access for people with disabilities and older people to public transport is traveler information that should be designed to fulfill the expectations and needs of individual travelers (Waara, 2013). The work is based on perceptions of people with disabilities and older people together with the view of experts on the implementation process. The researcher used quantitative and qualitative methods in the form of questionnaires, group discussions, interviews, focus group interviews and workshops. It was stated that the traveler information exercised considerable influence on the journey quality that is undertaken by people with disabilities and older people. Traveler information is the key factor that supports travelers in public transport and builds their confidence (p. 41). The scientist followed the idea that it is feasible to offer people with disabilities and older people the needed traveler information without any unmanageable cost associated with inclusive online services of traveler information (p. 43). Good and reliable information for travelers is considered to be an essential part of public transport service as it contributes to the overall service quality and is crucial for the friendliness of the dynamic and complex system of transport (Waara, 2009). However, different groups of travelers require various information. The scientist found that effective traveler information addresses all information needs of a specific traveler in a comprehensible, inclusive and coherent way. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to study the needs and valuations of traveler information among the disabled and older people. Waara aimed to understand what kind of traveler information is needed when people plan their journeys. It was stated that the need of some specific information increases with the disability severity. Attempts were made to point out some requirements of the pre-journey travel information of the disabled and older travelers.

The provision of public transport service as an essential component of the overall process of transportation planning and management was researched by Murray (2001). He examined the performance of public transportation and how it may be enhanced and addressed strategic service access aspects. Attempts were made to evaluate public transport in Australia through the use of integrated systems of commercial geographical information with various spatial analytical techniques. The strategic analysis approach developed by the scientist is considered to be effective as it justifies local modifications to the system of public transport concerning system inefficiencies. It was revealed that urban growth and change pose a threat to regional development. According to the author, the increased use of public transport may be caused by the system efficiency and service access. Murray claimed that public transport changes would lead to the improvement of system performance (p. 187).

Australia, together with New South Wales and Victoria, became the case study of the research carried out by Nutley (2003). Australia is often chosen for the analysis as it belongs to a small group of countries that are characterized by low density, very high levels of vehicle ownership and very little public transport in rural areas. The scientist incorporated accessibility measures and suggested the index of travel needs. He placed Australia in the context of other low density and affluent countries with evident problems of distance and rural isolation, which are solved by high levels of car ownership and low petrol prices. That is why lack of public transport is not considered to be important. Nutley stated that it was necessary to clear the consumer-orientated local case studies as they were considered to be the only means of establishing the significance of the problems related to lack of accessibility and relative immobility in remote and rural areas in Australia.

Rentzsch, Seliger, Meissner, & Wessne (2008) carried out a research in European countries aiming to study the barrier of accessibility of regional and long distance trains for disabled people. Disabilities, according to the authors, include people having different forms of impairment, and people with reduced mobility. They discussed accessibility of transport services to all people irrespective of their age and type of disability. The scientists aimed to analyze and evaluate the existing solutions at the railways in selected European countries as well as to derive a design concept and develop a mock-up to meet the travel needs and to test user groups. In order to verify the layout advantages of the train segment, Rentzsch et al. (2008) performed the EUPAX Design Mock-up test. The analyzed segments included entrance vestibule, access area,  information systems inside and outside the train, bathroom, emergency facilities, and the additional test arrangements. Test arrangements were assessed through a questionnaire which helped to execute qualitative and quantitative evaluation.

The access to public transport by the elderly and functionally impaired was also studied by Ståhl (n.d.). The research was conducted in Sweden and showed that communication design is many cases is decisive for the possibilities of the elderly and the disabled to take part in various societal activities. The author is convinced that the society should offer market-adjusted means of transport in the future to make traffic more convenient and efficient. The realization of this goal, according to Ståhl, requires a holistic approach, i.e. further cooperation of all parties involved, economic incentives, improved small buses and taxi vehicles. It was stated that cooperation among counties, municipalities and county councillors had begun in Sweden initiating lower cost transport (p. 7).

The barriers to bus use by the elderly include poor pedestrian accessibility, long distance to the bus stop and inadequate shelters (Broome, Worrall, Fleming, & Boldy, 2012). Attempts were made to investigate whether the replacement of the fixed bus route for a flexible route bus may improve satisfaction of the passengers with buses. Emphasis was made on the replacement impact on older citizens. Australia was chosen the country for the research. One of the fixed route services in Queensland was experimentally replaced with a flexible route service. It was found that the introduction of the flexible route service increased the number of elderly people who used buses. In order to get research data, the scientists conducted satisfaction surveys. It was concluded that a flexible route bus transport has great potential as a technology that can meet all transportation needs of people. It was suggested that further research should study the cost-benefit ratio of the services which provide flexible bus routes.

Ashford’s work (1981) serves as a reference point for those who are interested in the advances in terms of solution of the problems related to use of transport by the elderly and the disabled. The author believed that the accessibility building does not always lead to large cost increases. The new accessible vehicle provision may increase the vehicle purchase cost significantly. It is likely to happen in the fleet area of new urban buses. The area of retrofit of installations and vehicles which were never designed to meet the needs of the disabled and elderly is considered to be the most difficult area.

Rye & Mykura (2009) discussed the issue of concession and the people who receive it. They also highlighted the question of social inclusion and the factors which affect the use of concession. Using primary data sources of Scotland, the scientists tried to address concession in connection with financial matters. The authors got data from three sources including local evaluation that had been carried out in Edinburg, evaluation of the impact of a national concessionary entitlement carried out by the Scottish Executive and the work for the Scottish Executive that examines the needs of the disabled for public transport (p. 452). It was concluded that the new concessions led to the promotion of social inclusion and modal shift. A large number of people have limited access to concession as they face bus use barriers and it does not increase their social inclusion (p. 455).

There is an idea that aging of the population is one of the most important demographic changes in the developed countries in the 21st century (Su & Bell, 2009). The research highlights the results of the travel behavior of older people on the basis of London Area Travel Survey (LATS) of 2001. The points which were emphasized include the complexity of trip chain, trip changing behavior of older people, sequence of trip purpose, and chain mode choice. The London Borough of Cameron was taken as a case study. The research methodology consisted of qualitative and quantitative methods. The authors analyzed the older people’s travel and came to the conclusion that reduced mobility alters travel characteristics among older people. Older people have more time; that is why they often change their pattern of travel. They consider public transport as a means that makes them more independent. It was revealed that old age usually impairs chain trip ability. Aging leads to the decrease of physical ability making traveling with loads more difficult; it often involves loss of driving ability and difficulties while carrying loads, making trip chaining an impediment (p. 54). 

People with cognitive functional limitations become the subject of research carried out by Risser, Iwarsson & Ståhl (2012). They aimed to describe how CFL post-stroke people manage to use buses moving outdoors, to find out the difficulties and opportunities which are experienced while traveling by public transport to the destination. Participant observations and semi-structured interviews were used to get the research data. The scientists studied several barriers which may lead to the restriction on autonomous mobility outdoors. It was recommended to control vehicle speed, to improve access to information and to optimize the style of bus drivers’ communication with customers. The authors identified the main problems related to the use of buses including stop-buttons, high steps, poorly placed seats for the disabled and elderly, ticket-evaluation devices and others. New aspects of communication and interaction between passengers with cognitive functional limitation and drivers were identified. The suggested solution to the problem was training drivers to adopt communication habits which are more customer-friendly.

One of the biggest challenges for many governments is providing the citizens in low- density areas with cost efficient means of transport. A number of transport system aspects were combined to find the right approach. Jong, Voges, Wijk, & Cazemier (2011) distinguished the key components which determine the failure or success of the above mentioned system. The case studies carried out in the Netherlands show that success is caused by the combination of the key components. The most important of them are stakeholder cooperation, financial means presence and flexible supply of on-demand and scheduled transport. Gelderland was characterized as the area that faces challenges of public transport system which became very expensive because of the increased demand of the elderly and the absence of alternative transportation means. The suggested solution is to increase customer contribution for public transport (p. 71). 

Wretstrand et al. (2010) aimed to utilize a traveler- and incident-oriented perspective related to traveler injuries in Sweden. The main focus was on passenger and special transportation services which require engaged, supportive and trained drivers. The scientists considered the question of passenger safety to be the problem of drivers’ workplace. Mixed research methods were used to address the chosen perspective. The study results showed a considerable level of injuries in special transportation services which is not related to the collisions of road traffic. Wretstrand et al. (2010) concluded that increased injury level was due to the incidents of non-collision injury involving frail and elderly passengers (p. 253).

The use of special transportation services to improve the safety of wheelchair-seated passengers was studied by Wretstrand, Petzäll & Ståhl (2004). In spite of the fact that injuries often occur during normal driving, passengers are at risk of being injured while boarding and alighting public transport. However, a questionnaire showed that most passengers were satisfied with the safety degree. The study results revealed that despite the high level of satisfaction, the burning problem is malfunction of safety equipment. Hence, there is great need for tie-down and occupant restraint systems. It was suggested that the concept of low-floor vehicle may also reduce the risk of injuries related to the procedure of boarding and alighting. The study highlights the risks and shortcomings which should be taken into account by the authorities responsible, drivers and operators. Both the user and interface perspectives are of vital importance (p. 11).

The question of lack of good faculties and design of most public transport terminals has been discussed by Soltani, Sham, Awang, & Yaman (2011). It is evident that the elderly and disabled have fewer opportunities of transportation. Poor accessibility leads to a variety of challenges in using the public transport. The authors studied the concerns of the elderly and disabled to improve the public transport facilities as well as to foster a better relationship between the disabled and normal people. The local authorities were suggested to take an active part in establishing the ground and setting the standard designing rules for the public facilities.

Thus, the analysis of the existing literature has shown that more research should be conducted to clarify the reasons for bus travel cessation (Wretstrand et al., 2009, p. 63). Greater attention has to be paid to the special elderly needs of the elderly with obvious mobility restrictions, using kneelers and wheelchair lifts (Hundenski, 1992, p. 142).

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