Earlier this month, I ran a focus group discussion for the EU Travel Portal, a platform (currently in prototype stage) funded by the EU Commission which aims to allow passengers to plan, book and pay for all their travel across the EU. The idea is that all the different types of transport are in one place and it’s very much a door-to-door service. I was helping them out with a discussion group on making sure that the site provides the right information to allow passengers with limited mobility to travel also. I learnt a lot myself so I thought I’d summarise my learnings here.
I expected the output of the session to be quite a straight forward list of “I need information on x to travel on a train, and information on y to travel on a bus”. Whilst we did come out with that, much of the discussion revolved around trust. The participants regaled plenty of stories where the website or customer services had said “it’s accessible… you’ll be fine” and then… it wasn’t fine. And such experiences aren’t just disappointing but can also be dangerous, like, when a participant got stuck getting on a train. Or isolating, like when a participant had to stay on the car deck of the ferry whilst his family had to go up onto the deck. So what engendered trust? Talking to someone – a member of staff or a fellow traveler with positive experiences. A personalised email. A platform with static information is not enough: it needs to also facilitate interaction with others.
I also came out being slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the task. We talked in minute detail about how small the step and the gap between the train and the platform would have to be to allow participants to use it. It depended on so many things – whether they had someone with them, their risk profile, how crowded the train was, whether the step was up or down. We concluded that a full audit of all the stations across Europe with a standardised classification system would be needed. A huge task. It reminded me the importance of asking the question “Why hasn’t someone done this already?” A full audit of all the stations is not a technological solution, and is something which doesn’t scale – it just requires pure manpower (or womanpower). But someone has to do it at some point to get all this information online. It reminded me of the Google Street View car going around street after street recording footage – something which doesn’t scale but someone had to do it.
Fingers crossed travel across the EU will get easier and easier… Here is the full report if you’d like to read more: EUTravel Focus group discussion accessibility