What's happening

29 Jan 2019

Intelligent accessibility initiative; designed to remove barriers to travel for disabled passengers

The £1.4 million TOC Ability research and development project has today released its final report, which shows how digital technology can be harnessed to enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of rail services for disabled customers.

The project has been co-funded by the UK’s Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and is made up of seven partner organisations from across the rail industry and academia. The TOC Ability consortium has worked together since April 2016 to create a digital platform to share the journey requirements of disabled customers with TOCs, enabling location-specific assistance management across passengers’ end-to-end journeys, while protecting user privacy.

Experts from academic, private and public sectors are collaborating in the development of the intelligent accessibility hub that shares information between different systems – passengers, TOCs and service providers.

As part of the TOC Ability consortium, Loughborough Design School contributed research strengths in User Experience Design and gave their expert advice on the system design from a user perspective. The system is designed to enhance accessibility to rail services and put accessibility first. Previous research at Loughborough showed that the key problems to current assistance programmes is that the user did not have the reassurance that the help would be available when needed. With TOC Ability, the information is shared between train operators, with a profile of each user, individual texting service and real-time information, making it a more bespoke service.

Tracy Ross led the project for Loughborough Design School, and commented;

“It was fantastic to be involved in this project; seeing how the customer experience can be improved, by giving the customer the confidence and reassurance that their individual needs for assistance would be met, throughout their journey.”

TOC Ability has been developed in partnership with an accessibility panel of disabled people with a range of impairments. The TOC Ability platform was successfully tried and tested by customers with accessibility needs across the UK throughout November 2018. The trials featured scenarios which disabled passengers regularly experience, on long and short distance train journeys, with routes operated by different Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and interchanges of varying complexity. The feedback from the trial was captured from customers and TOC, then analysed, using a robust process developed by the Design School.

Chris Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Enable ID, which developed the identity governance software that powers TOC Ability, said: “We know from recent government research that on average people with a disability make 88% fewer journeys by rail, while the rail sector faces ever-increasing pressure to enable all passengers to access the network and experience better journeys. TOC Ability can help to overcome this challenge and give disabled customers the confidence they need to travel by train.”

Nick Goss, Managing Director of accessibility consultants Goss Consultancy said: “By making it easier to access assistance at stations and carry out rail journeys, TOC Ability aims to encourage more disabled people to travel with confidence by train. This will make it easier for all customers to access jobs, education, leisure and social activities.”

Other consortium members involved in the project are RSSB, Transport for London, Arriva, Enable ID, Atkins, University of Surrey and Goss Consultancy Ltd

Read the full report here.