Bus stop announcement app for blind and visually impaired passengers is launched, but charity says it’s no substitute for audio-visual announcements

 

The BUSFORUS app launch in Leeds last week

 

First and Arriva, in partnership with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, launched a new next stop announcement smartphone app last week. They claim that it could revolutionise bus travel for blind and visually impaired passengers.

Bus operators are facing pressure to provide audio-visual announcements on their services. Guide Dogs, which has run a ‘Talking Buses’ campaign, has called the provision of on-bus AV outside London “pitiful” and is urging the government to force bus operators to provide it.

Transport minister Susan Kramer has also applied pressure. Addressing last month’s UK Bus Summit in London, she said that two thirds of blind or partially sighted bus passengers have missed their bus stop in the last six months. “For any passenger that’s inconvenient, but when a blind passenger ends up unexpectedly disembarking in an unfamiliar place it’s frightening and it’s dangerous,” she said.

Bus operators say that equipping buses with AV is expensive, and First, Arriva and CPT believe they have developed an alternative solution. Launched at Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium last week, their BUSFORUS-branded app has been created specifically for blind and visually impaired bus passengers. It provides users with real-time audio and visual alert notifications, direct to their handset, so that they know exactly where they are on a journey and at which stop to get off.

The ‘Next Stop Announcement’ app is available as a beta version on Apple’s iOS platform (iPhone) and will be piloted in Leeds over an eight-week period. The app also offers route maps, next service information and a facility to save favourite and frequently used stops and bus routes.

Speaking at the launch, CPT chairman Ian Morgan said: “I am confident that the pilot will clearly demonstrate that app technology has a key role to play in making bus journeys easier and more accessible for all.”

However, Guide Dogs says that the app does not go far enough to solve the problem.

“Guide Dogs believe technology has a crucial role to play in making transport more accessible for people who are blind or partially sighted. However, smartphone applications cannot replace the need for audio-visual next stop and final destination announcements to be installed on all new buses,”said  James White, Guide Dogs campaign manager.

“Smartphone technology has its limitations – it’s still not an option for those who can’t afford it or aren’t able to use it. There are also areas across the country without signal, and smartphone battery life is notoriously short, which could leave someone stranded. Talking Buses is the only way to make bus travel easier for everyone.”

Guide Dogs recalled a remark made by Susan Kramer last year: “We need to remember that 19% of families with at least one disabled member live in relative income poverty. For them, smartphones may be too expensive or difficult to use”.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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