New app for rail passengers with disabilities

The Passenger Assist app will roll out in Autumn 2019 to simplify travel for those needing assistance.

Train app
The app ‘will transform the way that people with a disability can book assistance when they travel by train to make it easier, less stressful and less likely to go wrong,’ according to the Rail Delivery Group At the moment customers can book by phone or online, providing contact details and specifying the assistance they need every time. Staff at stations receive a printed list of booked assistance each morning, but when plans change, such as a delayed train or the customer misses their booked train, there's no way to update the list and staff can end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Customers can end up without the assistance they were expecting or unable to travel at all. The new system should resolve these issues. The app, which is being trialled by West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Greater Anglia, and South Western Railway, will allow customers to:
  • book, change and cancel assistance quickly, which can currently take up to 40 minutes over the phone; and
  • create a user profile, specifying their personal details and the type of assistance they need, so recurring bookings become quicker.
It will provide 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. It will also ensure better staff communication. 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.” Sarah Ward from Shrewsbury, who uses a wheelchair due to a neurological condition and has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been trialling the app since May. She said: “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.” Passenger Assist has been developed in collaboration with charities including Disability Rights UK, Blind Veterans UK and Anxiety UK. The app is aimed at anyone who needs help with their train journey, from people with disabilities to parents with prams to elderly people. Scope’s Head of Policy and Campaigns James Taylor said: “This app should play an important role in simplifying the process making the assistance people need to travel much easier to book.” Other work by the rail industry in partnership with disability rights groups includes:
  • increasing the 450 step-free railway stations across the country by 110 between 2014 and 2019
  • designing a universal ramp to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to board and alight from trains, as currently there are 25 ramps to fit different trains and platforms.
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