The team at ALCO Consulting are busy cheering-on the contenders at the Paralympics in Rio. With the UK in second spot (behind China) and Australia sitting at sixth, there’s been some healthy competition between our southern and northern hemisphere offices (no money has changed hands – yet!).
We find the paralympians remarkably inspirational, as most of us cannot even begin to imagine the obstacles that competitors must have to overcome to reach such a remarkable level of success. Even making the journey to Rio in order to compete must be infinitely more challenging than for those of us without mobility constraints. The planning for such a journey would surely need to be meticulous. But it isn’t just the long journeys that challenge travellers with physical limitations, and that’s why ALCO Consulting continues to work with third sector organisations and qualified individuals who advise us on the practical and realistic implementation of transport associated technologies. In turn, we are better placed to advise our clients, and they better placed to deploy systems which maximise inclusivity and ease-of-access.
Mass transit, at both the infrastructure and service layers, is better and more accessible than it has ever been before – think low-floor/‘kneeling’ vehicles and improved transport infrastructure access (in some places!). But there is a long, long way to go, and some areas of the journey process have received little or no meaningful improvement for many years – and as an independent transport technology advisor that’s of great interest to us.
New and emerging technologies provide the opportunity to re-consider inclusivity and access, giving us the ability to ensure that our clients benefit by making the best use of newly available service-based technology. Public transport ticketing is a good example. Many jurisdictions now use dedicated transport smartcards, or ‘tokenised’ bankcards or smartphones – and that’s made life a lot easier, but not necessarily for everyone.
Approaching a station gate for many is still challenging. The card (or token) must be easily accessible – experience shows us that many people still need to rake through their pocket, handbag, or wallet to find the right card. Barrier arrays, which usually only have one ‘wide-barrier’, are usually attended; although these still do not provide a flawless customer experience for travellers with mobility issues.
Travellers with constraints may have difficulty in locating, using, and re-storing their cards – and don’t want to rely on rail staff just to get through the ticketing experience. It’s not the traveller that’s overly complex here, it’s the ticketing process.
One of the new technologies that we frequently factor into our advisory services for ticketing system implementations is Bluetooth low energy (‘BLE’), which is marketed to the public as Bluetooth Smart. BLE offers ‘proximity sensing’ technology, which identifies mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) as their holders enter the paid zone. Working in conjunction with an account-based ticketing system, Bluetooth Smart identifies the traveller upon entry to, and exit from, the transport network with no customer interaction required. Whilst traditional Bluetooth will do the same thing, BLE works with low energy consumption, avoiding the pain of flat batteries in devices just when you need them, making this solution truly practical.
If travellers don’t need to physically interact with the ticketing system at all, and the identification of a valid token (and the associated transaction) is managed by an array of ‘smart’ sensors, then traditional ticketing infrastructure (i.e. gates, validators) could be removed.
Station concourses could be designed to become more accessible, make better and safer use of space, and ensure that everyone has an improved and equitable ticketing experience. Examples of the technology are now being piloted – including this year in England. We expect that in the next five to ten years, travellers will begin to see major implementations of this exciting new solution. Personally, we can’t wait!
In the meantime, we wish our paralympians well, and we look forward to our Oz office coughing-up.
For more information, get in touch with one of the ALCO Consulting team.