Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by Professor Robert Weale

  With an increasingly ageing population, and the Government's continuous exhortations for public transport to be used, it would seem that transport facilities should become even more user-friendly than they are.

  1.  The directions and bus numbers at the front of buses do not seem to be presented as clearly as they might. They are not always illuminated when necessary, and, even in daylight, their legibility is often below par, especially if an older person's eyesight is not as young as it used to be.

  2.  It is a matter of common observation that bus drivers frequently fail to drive as near to the kerb as is desirable. This may be due to vehicle obstruction, but, alternatively, to oversight. It also needs to be said that a close approach of the vehicle to the kerb is only a palliative; often there remains quite an effort for the ageing passenger to overcome in boarding the vehicle. Once inside a public transport vehicle, s/he may find that the four (?) seats reserved for him/her are frequently occupied by younger posteriors, not always willing to vacate the seats or, perhaps, failing to understand English. A pictorial enjoinder might conceivably help.

  3.  Although cabs are not, strictly speaking, part of a public transport system, they provide a useful supplement. Entering and leaving cabs appears to be a nightmare for some older persons. This may be due to the (excessive?) space left between the passenger seats and the dividing wall, designed, no doubt, to accommodate luggage or parcels. In differently designed cabs, they could be placed in a boot.

  4.  Train carriages may present problems when the platform is not level with the floor of the carriage or on bends. Curved platforms could be eliminated, if, as is the case in Japan (and now on some stations of the Jubilee Line), trains were programmed to stop within a a few centimetres of prearranged marks. Possible gaps could be bridged to ensure safety. There is also a case to be made for the provision of hand grips inside the carriages so that the elderly may steady themselves when the train is in motion, and there is no other means of support.

  5.  The existence of boarding steps for aircraft would seem to be an anachronism, especially when they are coupled to the difficulties offered by steps leading from waiting areas to the tarmac.

  6.  Insufficient consideration appears to be given in general to the legibility of instructions and direction in general. There is, of course, enormous competition from commercial advertisers, and it may be the case that, however hard public transport authorities may be trying to convey a message, commerce is going to prevail. However, that stage has not been reached. The shape of letters, their contrast, and their positions often leave a lot to be desired as regards elderly readers. To be specific, blue and violet may be found in colour combinations rendering the information offered of little use.

  7.  There is a case to be made for information in all waiting areas being made to attract attention by flashing at the start of a period needed for an older person to reach the target (train, plane, coach) indicated. This would not only be helpful but might also be useful in combating visual commercial competition.

September 2004

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