JOANNE TURNER discusses how, and why, railway stations should be made more user-friendly for all travellers

Whether used for the daily commute or for a sporadic weekend trip away, the British public counts on trains as a method of reliable transport. In fact, according to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), in 2016-2017 1.7 billion train journeys1 were recorded in the UK – the highest number since measuring began in 1950. As such, enabling quick, easy and safe access for passengers within railway stations is top priority for health and safety managers in the sector.

In 2018, it’s hard to imagine that these integral transport hubs could provide some passengers with difficulties associated with accessibility, leading to an unpleasant experience. However, for travellers with mobility challenges or other disabilities, as well as unavoidable factors such as wheeled luggage to account for, not all railway stations adequately cater for all travellers’ needs.

The requirements of The Equality Act 2010 encourage businesses to adhere to certain criteria to protect disabled citizens from discrimination. But the true benefits of improving ease of access to railway stations lie far beyond simply ticking legal boxes.

Power of the ‘purple pound’
If a customer isn’t satisfied with their experience, they’re unlikely to use the same business again. With over 13 million2 disabled people living in the UK, that equates to an astonishing number of unhappy travellers if accessibility within stations isn’t properly addressed, possibly leading to lost revenue as a result.

The spending power of this demographic, known as the ‘purple pound’, is estimated to be worth over £249 billion to the UK economy. Furthermore, in 2016 it was reported3 that the ‘silver pound’ (people aged 50 or over) spent more money than younger demographics for the first time – a trend that is expected to continue. The commercial value of catering towards these customers then makes an excellent case for improving inclusivity within railway stations, in addition to legal and ethical initiatives. In order to understand how to make travelling hassle-free for all passengers, it’s important to recognise the stages of the customer journey where the challenges lie.

Effortless entrance
Features such as dropped kerbs and ramps are commonplace at most UK station entrances, helping those with mobility issues to start their journey with ease. It’s important, however, to take into account events such a traffic diversions, public events or incidents that may stop passengers from entering via these accessible routes due to traffic cones and barriers. Without such considerations, customers may be deterred from ever travelling by rail if negligence towards their needs is the first impression they form.

Work with your local authorities to negotiate plans if there are any barriers blocking your entrance, and consider putting measures in place to ensure all entry points are accessible, rather than a select few.

Stress-free ticketing
Another commonplace feature in railway stations are self-service ticket machines, reflecting the trend for self-serve kiosks and checkouts elsewhere in the retail landscape. These solutions undoubtedly drive efficiency, but can also be overwhelming for vulnerable customers.

As well as finding the machines difficult to use, many potentially vulnerable users can feel pressure as queues form behind them, adding to the stress caused. Increasing staffing levels at these digital ticket kiosks can provide support and assurance for those who are struggling.

Even at manned ticket points, measures such as installing dual-height windows and hearing loops for passengers who are partially deaf, for example, can improve a customers’ experience at this crucial stage of the journey.

Safer people management
Queuing is inevitable at railway stations, especially during peak times and when managing high numbers of passengers effectively is critical. Although already a stressful experience, queuing can present additional safety risks for travellers with reduced sight or mobility, as well as those with heavy luggage to carry.

Where applicable, ticketed queue systems can help to restore order to lengthy lines. They allow people to spend time in retail spaces or browse promotional literature, allowing the opportunity to increased revenues. ‘Slow lanes’ -a more recent innovation showcased last January by retail giant, Tesco – may help to reduce stress for passengers who need more time to complete transactions, which could prove helpful in a ticketing situation too.

Traditional people management systems, such as barriers, are often used to define queues and also to cordon off hazards of obstacles, making them an indispensable solution for railway staff. Developments on these systems can also ensure that passengers wait safely while not compromising accessibility.

For example, the new low-profile universal base for Tensabarrier® enables wheelchairs and pushchairs to pass over the edge of an existing Tensabarrier® more easily, reducing the risk of stalling, trips and falls, regardless of how busy it gets. The new design can be used with any barrier that is compatible with the Universal base, making a simple but effective safety switch.

Making railway stations accessible to all
Taking the responsibility to ensure a railway station meets the needs of all users can bring a number of benefits, delighting customers and in turn, creating a well-used facility and encouraging rail travel for all.

Joanne TurnerJoanne Turner is head of marketing at people management specialist Tensator®.Headquartered in Milton Keynes, Tensator is a specialist in customer experience management and complete queue flow solutions,enabling people to move safely and efficiently through a building.The firm has been pioneering customer journeys since 1881 and now works with clients in 150 countries around the world.