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Helping visually impaired passengers travel around Prague (Czech Republic)

By News Editor / Updated: 25 Aug 2015

Prague has for decades been investing to improve the accessibility of its public transport (PT). In the mid 90s the Czech capital introduced a system that equipped all PT vehicles with an electronic device that announces the number and destination of the approaching vehicles, so visually impaired people waiting at the bus/tram stop are informed. The system also informs the driver when a visually impaired person wants to get on or off the vehicle.

Together with infrastructure improvements, such as removing barriers for wheelchairs at stations, Prague is a good example of a city that is significantly improving the travel conditions of people with reduced mobility.

Context 

Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. The city is home to about 1.24 million people, with nearly 2 million in the larger urban area. About 10 000 visually impaired people live in Prague but not all use PT.

Accessible PT for all categories of handicapped passengers, including visually impaired passengers, is constantly one of the priorities of Prague City Council. To make sure Prague’s public transport is accessible for all people a municipal working group has been set up, consisting of members from the City of Prague, Prague Public Transit Company and from the association of the visually impaired. This working group was responsible for drafting a strategic document that outlined the concept of removing barriers in PT for people with disabilities

In action 

During the early 90s little to nothing was done for PT passengers with reduced mobility. Since the mid-90s, however, there was a significant shift when the city purchased low-floor vehicles – a statutory obligation to ensure barrier-free access into new subway stations, tram and bus stops. By 1998, Prague Public Transport Company provided all vehicles with special equipment to allow communication between the vehicles and the visually impaired.  Visually impaired passengers own a portable remote control, obtainable through the association of the visually impaired, which sends a signal to an arriving vehicle. This makes the vehicle announce (loudly) externally its number and direction. The same equipment enables the visually impaired person to confirm to the driver whether he or she plans to board the vehicle, which increases the travelers’ safety. Automatic stop announcements inside the vehicles help the blind (and of course all other passengers) to orient themselves as to where they are on the route.

Besides the programme focusing on vehicles and information provision, Prague also invested in infrastructural accessibility. All newly opened metro stations are fully accessible for all travellers and a programme to make older metro stations barrier-free and accessible to wheelchairs was also launched. Prague determined which stations needed adaptations with the help of a feasibility study and feedback from organisations representing the visually impaired. As of 2015, four stations are under construction to make them accessible by wheelchair: Mustek line A, Mustek line B, Andel and I.P. Pavlova.

All wheelchair-accessible stations and tram stops are also equipped with guiding infrastructural elements for the visually impaired, such as ensuring that there are no stairs between the platform and streets. The costs for retrofitting a subway station for wheelchair access ranges from € 500 000 for a single station near the surface, to € 110m for deep stations in urban areas. The average is about € 5.5m per subway station.

Results 

Currently Prague has 57 metro stations, of which 34 are barrier-free. Two stations are already wheelchair accessible with a special lift, operated by trained personnel. In April 2015 the extension of Metro Line A4 will be opened and four new stations will be added. These will all be wheelchair accessible. By the end of 2015 wheelchair access will also be provided at three underground stations (Mustek line A, Mustek line B, Andel and I.P. Pavlova). 

At the end of 2015 Prague will have 61 metro stations, 43 of which will be accessible by wheelchair. All these stations will have appropriate supplies and will be manned by personnel to aid PT access. In tram and bus transport the situation is similar. All new vehicles are low-floor to ensure easy access without stairs; 259 trams of 883 (30 per cent) are low-floor as are 884 out of 1187 buses (75 per cent).

Challenges, opportunities and transferability 

The guidance system for visually impaired people in Prague’s public transport is constantly being fine-tuned and improved in co-operation with organisations representing the interests of the visually impaired to help them use public transport. This system is applicable in all cities that operate public transport. It has already been used in other cities in the Czech Republic but also by PT operators abroad, such as the Dresden transport company (Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG).

In Depth 

Image copyright: Tap to walk (photo on Flickr) by "Irish Typepad", licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Topic: 
Collective passenger transport
Transport for people with reduced mobility
Country: 
Czechia
City: 
Prague
Author: 
Lizeke de Clerck
01 Aug 2015
25 Aug 2015
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