Travel confident: creating an inclusive public transport environment

Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, News, Safe and Inclusive Mobility

Today marks International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Across the world, many people with disabilities and reduced mobility remain excluded from social and economic life due to inaccessible transport systems.

Since 2016 we have been working with our EASST partners the Automobile Club of Moldova (ACM), the Belarusian Auto Moto Touring Club (BKA), and the National Automobile Club of Azerbaijan (AMAK) to better understanding the needs, desires and problems faced by people with disabilities in these countries as drivers, pedestrians and public transport users with the aim of learning how to address such issues proactively.

In each country, we have found that access to public transport is not generally available to people with disabilities. In Azerbaijan 66% of people with disabilities who we surveyed described using the bus as “very hard” “impossible” or simply “not accessible”. In Belarus, 100% of survey respondents with mental disabilities reported difficulties in making even the most basic journeys due to inaccessible public transport. In Moldova, despite new fleets adapted for accessibility, over 50% people reported moderate to severe difficulties using public transport.

In addition to issues of infrastructure, overt discrimination by public transport drivers and the disrespect of other public transport users were cited amongst the main reasons people with disabilities avoid traveling. Further investigations found that none of the main public transport providers in these countries offered any form of Disability Awareness Training for their staff or managers. Find out more about our work in each country here.

To address these problems, we have been supported by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Sustainable Mobility Programme to work towards making public transport more accessible and inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities in low-and-middle income countries so they can travel independently and with confidence.

Working with a team of expert advisors representing disability organisations across the UK and Europe, and in consultation with our local partners, public transport companies and disability groups in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Moldova we have developed a comprehensive Disability Awareness Training course aimed at public transport managers and senior drivers in low and middle income countries. And, over the last few weeks, our partners have been working in partnership with local disability groups to pilot the course with transport agencies in their countries.

Today marks the culmination of this work as our partners across Azerbaijan, Belarus and Moldova bring together disabled people’s organisations and local transport companies in a dialogue to discuss what measures can be made to improve the public transport environment for people with disabilities locally.

A critical aspect of the course and its follow up has been the involvement of local people with disabilities who have shared their experiences of using bus and trolleybus services and how they think things can be improved.

The course offers itself has built on these experiences to offer practical guidance on how to better understand and support passengers with different types of disabilities, emphasising the importance of stakeholder consultations, as well as explaining how an inclusive public transport strategy can boost business.

The training has been warmly welcomed by both companies and transport users in each country where it has been piloted.

National Automobile Club of Azerbaijan (AMAK)

“Organisation of such trainings is very beneficial for us since we are reminded that disability is not only related to a wheelchair. Moreover, such trainings create a communication bridge between people with disabilities and public transport representatives.”

Lilian Copaci, General Department of Public Transport and Communications, Moldova
“Such training is very useful for us and for the administration of trolleybus and bus fleets, but also for drivers and conductors. With the help of such thematic trainings, we are reminded of the issues of people with disabilities and other citizens in public transport. In turn, we are happy to help improving the situation, meetings with groups of people with disabilities are still being held, but as a result of such training, we had the opportunity to bring to the surface/agenda issues related to ensuring accessibility to public transport, especially during a pandemic. I believe that it is also necessary to cover these problems in mass media in order to inform the population and form public opinion and perception. After all, people also need to understand each other’s needs and help people with disabilities, as well as the same drivers or conductors of public transport.”
Vitalie Mester, Director of the Center for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Moldova
“I think that such a training is very informative and useful, it should be carried out to all drivers, conductors, as well as responsible persons, not only in Chisinau, but throughout the Republic. It is very good that the first modules of the training were devoted to the theory and introduction to the problematic, explaining who people with disabilities are and how they feel. Because, not every person is aware of what is happening next to other people in public transport, not only to those who have obvious visible disability problems. Practical exercises and illustrative examples are also very helpful and important, they helped the participants to “play” the role of people with special needs. It is also good that the issue of creating an advisory group was raised, it already exists at the local level, but not always effectively, now it is planned to create an accessibility council within the city hall, it is possible to include the problems of public transport there.”

From today, our course materials and guidance notes for trainers are available to download and use on the EASST Academy website. Also launching in Spring 2022 will be an adapted version of the course which can be taken online.

Cities that are accessible and inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities are also safer and more user-friendly for all families with pushchairs, elderly people, women, children, and even tourists. Accessible cities make people – not cars – the first priority, and in so doing are better for all road users.