The rail industry is trialling the Passenger Assist app through four train operating companies - West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Greater Anglia, and South Western Railway.
The app will help make travel for people with a disability easier, less stressful and less likely to go wrong by enabling them to book help at railway stations. It includes accessible features, such as the ability to change colour themes, fonts and text sizes.
Technology company Transreport developed the Passenger Assist app in collaboration with disability charities including Disability Rights UK, Blind Veterans UK and Anxiety UK.
Currently, customers can book in various ways including by phone or online - a time-consuming process where they provide contact details and specify the assistance they need every time.
Staff at stations then receive a printed list of booked assistance each morning, which means when plans change. For example, if trains are delayed or the customer misses their booked train, there is no way to update the list and staff can end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The new system will resolve these issues.
Passenger Assist will tackle these problems by:
enabling customers to book, change and cancel assistance quickly, which can currently take up to 40 minutes over the phone
allowing customers to create a user profile, specifying their personal details and the type of assistance they need, so recurring bookings become quicker
providing staff with live information, including key details about the customer and their journey, so they can provide a better service and accommodate short-notice requests
ensuring better staff communication so staff can anticipate and deliver changes in planned assistance.
Robert Nisbet, regional director at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the railway, said: “We know we’ve got to do better to improve rail’s accessibility. We want everyone who has requested assistance to get the help they need, which is why we’re investing in this pioneering technology that has the needs of our customers at its heart. A few taps of the app will give customers more control, help our people do their jobs better, and deliver on the commitment in our long-term plan to enable more people to benefit from travelling by train.”
A positive impact
Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike MBE, who has previously campaigned for better accessibility on the railway, said: “Although passenger assistance usually works, I’ve had awful experiences when it has failed so it’s great to see the rail industry addressing this and planning to change and improve for the benefit of disabled people. The app will make it so much easier to get assistance, and more importantly it will empower disabled people to travel without any fear. This is truly inclusion.”
Sarah Ward from Shrewsbury, who uses a wheelchair due to a neurological condition and has Asperger’s Syndrome, said: “For me, the current system of booking assistance in advance is really frustrating. Whilst staff are generally really helpful, it's not very flexible, and it often feels like I have to fit into the system, rather than the system working for me.
“With the app, I've found everything so much easier. It's great being able to do things, on the spot, literally at the touch of a button. I think that the app provides a really positive step in opening up rail travel to disabled people. It has enabled me to be much more flexible with my travel plans, and it's given me much more confidence in making journeys.”