The experience of taking the public transportation system is not always pleasant. Often, it gets very crowded with people who are in a hurry to go to work or head back home. The number of seats available to passengers is very limited, which means that many people have to stand in the aisle in the middle of the train or bus.
In Tokyo in Japan, there are designated staff to push passengers in so that the doors could close and the train can leave the station. In Mumbai in India, train doors do not even close; people alight and get off even while the train moves.
Using the public transportation system in many countries is inconvenient and unpleasant for most people. One can only imagine what people with disabilities have to go through to go to their destination if they do not own a private vehicle.
An estimated 15% of the entire world’s population, or one billion people, have some form of disability. Yet, not all cities have made efforts to make their public transportation system accessible to people with disabilities.
Only a few places in the world have managed to create cityscapes that are welcoming to people who have disabilities and those who do not.
What the World Can Learn from the Best
Singapore has the best public transportation system in the world. The buses and train lines are clean, safe, efficient, and, most importantly, accessible to people with disabilities.
Each of SMRT’s train stations has at least one barrier-free route and ramps and wider fare gates specifically designed for those who use a wheelchair. Those with visual impairment can use tactile paving to help them navigate the area with ease. The arrival times and destinations of each train are displayed on various screens placed around every station.
In other cities, people with disabilities have very limited choices. They often have to flag down a taxi that can accommodate their mobility aids. However, in Singapore, most buses are wheelchair-friendly. The bus captains onboard are all trained to assist people with boarding. Moreover, the seats nearest to the door are reserved for people with disabilities, making sure that they are comfortable and safe throughout the journey.
The city-island has a plan to make all of its buses wheelchair-friendly in the near future. It will be one of the few nations with a public transportation system that does not discriminate based on ability.
The London Underground has been in operation since 1863, and it has made major improvements since then to make it more accessible to all passengers. Out of 270 stations, a quarter of it has step-free entry to the train for wheelchair users. Some stations require the passenger to ask the help of staff to manually install a boarding ramp so that they can get on and off the train.
Also, the Tube’s new trains have wider spaces to accommodate mobility aids. There are spaces designated for passengers to park their wheelchairs within the train.
However, the public transport system in the capital city is far from perfect. Many stations still do not have ramps, and the older trains are still quite narrow for wheelchair users. Moreover, during rush hour, the trains are packed. Often, there are not enough spaces for people with disabilities to safely and comfortably travel. They have to delay their journey by waiting for the next train to be able to alight.
More than Just Barriers and Ramps
Everyone can do more to ensure that people with disabilities can move freely throughout the city. The world does not end after installing ramps and removing physical barriers in buses and train stations.
Governments and public transport companies can take advantage of existing technology and invest in developing new technology that will improve travel for people with disabilities. An app, for example, can be used to alert a staff member beforehand that they need assistance boarding the bus, the taxi, or the train. Doing so would cut the time that a person with a disability will spend waiting for the driver or a city worker to come and provide aid.
An app can also identify a route, including available public transport vehicles and disability-friendly features, to make traveling easier. Although every city should make efforts to transform public transportation systems to be accessible to all, not just to those who do not have disabilities, it will take time. Technology should assist those who need help in the meantime.
People with disabilities are citizens, too, who deserve to move freely and safely throughout the city. Failing to provide a public transportation system that is accessible to people with disabilities denies them opportunities for education and employment and living a happy, normal life.