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Passenger Information Systems

Picture of an airport departure board.In the foreseeable future there are going to be significant changes in real-time passenger information systems, not all of which will be to the advantage of blind and partially sighted passengers. At the same time new technological methods for accessing information could be implemented if the transport providers are convinced that there is sufficient demand for such facilities.


What are passenger information systems?

A passenger information system is an electronic information system which provides real-time passenger information (a real time system responds to events or signals as fast as possible, or as they happen). It may include both predictions about arrival and departure times, as well as information about the nature and causes of disruptions. It may be used both physically within a transportation hub and remotely using a web browser or mobile device.

The passenger often has a choice of methods to reach a specific destination, but there is rarely a single source which can provide information of the times and costs of all the options. One type of system likely to become more common is the automated telephone-based information system which incorporates speech recognition. This allows a blind person to obtain information in audio form in an interactive way. The blind person speaks to the system and gets an audio response: “You have asked for the arrival time of a flight from New York. Please say the flight number.” These systems can work well if the caller has a reasonably standard query; however they need to be well designed to avoid confusion.

There is likely to be an increasing amount of information on the web but it may not be in the most accessible or usable format. Timetables are often shown in a complex tabular presentation which is difficult to access with speech output. Another method of accessing such information may be interactive television; as yet, these systems are largely inaccessible to blind and partially sighted people.

There are already unmanned railway stations, and the transport operators will want more customers to purchase tickets from machines. These machines can be difficult or impossible to use if you cannot read the screen. It is possible for a ticket machine to have large characters on the screen or speech output, but it adds to the cost of the terminal.

Picture of a display in a bus showing the name of the next stop.

In places such as shopping centres, car parks, railway and bus stations, locating an information terminal or cash machine can be difficult - particularly for people who are blind or have low vision. For low vision users, signs showing where a terminal is could be large and high contrast (preferably white or yellow characters on a dark background) and illuminated (preferably internally illuminated). One possibility is to use a contactless smart card, carried by the blind person, to trigger an audible signal from the terminal at a distance of a few metres.

Digitally stored speech can give very good quality audio, but it is effectively limited to pre-stored messages. Full vocabulary synthetic speech is often difficult to understand for naïve users, particularly if they have a hearing impairment.

In some towns, bus stops are fitted with a visual display giving the destination and expected arrival time of the next bus. It would be possible to have speech output from this display; this could be activated by a button or a contactless smart card.

Infra-red systems have been developed which involve a transmitter mounted on the bus stop and the blind person carries a hand-held device which gives out the audible message; the disadvantage of such systems is that they are expensive to install and maintain.

Picture of a person holding a PDA.

Another method of obtaining speech output from a visual display would be by a short-range radio link, such as Bluetooth, to a mobile phone handset. This use of the mobile phone handset could also apply to screens on platforms at railway stations and transmitters could also be mounted on buses giving their route numbers and destination.

Some trains have a visual display of the name of the next stop and a few have an audible announcement. This is less common in buses, even though the technology is available. In circumstances where public audible announcements may be unsuitable, wireless systems could be employed to make the announcements available to the passengers who want them.

Blind and partially sighted users are very dependent on the transport system running in a predictable manner according to the timetable. It is when the system is disrupted that the information systems are often inadequate, provide inaccurate or out-of-date information and rarely provide it in a non-visual form. Even then it may be difficult for a visually impaired person to act on this information.

Recommendations

The Real Time Information Group (RTIG) (2007) published Guidelines detailing how public transport information systems should take account of the needs of disabled passengers.

Guidelines include:

Further information

Acknowledgements


 



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