In 2014 Lucerne's public transport company developed a training course for its bus drivers to help them understand the day-to-day problems faced by visually impaired passengers.
The response has been positive and the initiative was welcomed by a local centre for the visually impaired. Lucerne is now working together with a school for children with disabilities to create a program that teaches its drivers how to respond to the needs of wheelchair users.
The city of Lucerne, Switzerland, has a population of about 80 000 people, with around 220 000 in the agglomeration. The local public transport company is Verkehrsbetriebe Luzern AG (vbl), an independent company owned by the city.
It operates 92 buses and 74 trolleybuses on 25 daytime routes and five overnight services. In 2013 41 per cent of the people passing the inner city cordon of Lucerne used public transport, 56 per cent individual motorised transport modes and 3 per cent a bicycle.
The city’s mobility strategy, adopted in 2014, includes co-ordinated transport measures to be implemented in the next 20 years. The strategy focuses on means of transport that require relative little urban space (public transport, walking and cycling) and the objective to create urban spaces with high-quality of life and stay. Lucerne aims to be accessible for all, safe and attractive. This also means accessible public transport for elderly and disabled people.
Switzerland has a law on the mandatory facilities to be provided to better integrate people with disabilities into society (Behinderten Gleichstellungs Gesetz 2013). According to this law, the vbl buses have separated seats for people with disabilities, low floors, verbal announcements of bus stops and screens with the schedule and the next bus stops.
But vbl wants to do more than the legal requirements. vbl daily carries visually impaired people in all of their buses. Exact numbers are unknown, but as an indication: in Switzerland the percentage of persons with a visual impairment is estimated as between 3 and 4 per cent.  They often encounter problems like buses not stopping at the marked spot, not knowing which bus line is arriving, being unable to find the reserved place in the bus, and being disorientated when when leaving the bus.
In 2014 vbl therefore developed a training based on the principle ‘Learning from the concerned’, developed in close co-operation with the Impaired Vision Centre for Central Switzerland (fsz) in Lucerne. The training focuses on the following aspects:
- Stopping the bus in the right position;
- Opening the door and mentioning which bus line it is and to ask where the passenger wants to go;
- Helping visually impaired passengers to take the seat next to the driver and asking at which bus stop they want to leave the bus;
- Helping visually impaired passengers to leave the bus and to explain the environment around the bus stop.
The half-day training consists of a video instruction film, driving and behavioural lessons. The training is a mandatory element of the vbl bus driver education - and includes drivers having to put on a pair of dark glasses to learn how it feels to be blind. The film is available on the intranet for vbl employees and all drivers can watch the film on their personal tablet.
 Behinderung hat viele Gesichter, Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS), 2009
‘The drivers appreciate the education. We learned that small things can be very important,’ said vbl team leader, Ronald Brunner. ‘For example it can be very dangerous if a guideline is broken even for half a metre. It is also clear that our drivers are willing to assist, but they can only do that if the visually impaired persons identify themselves with a white stick’.
vbl does not have figures on whether the measure attracted new visually impaired passengers, but sometimes vbl receives feedback from grateful passengers. Since the film was a co-production with the fsz, the target group is now also aware of the improved service. Marco Fischer, office manager for fsz, said: 'Our clients are dependent on public transport for their mobility, so we are very pleased about this initiative from vbl.'
Christian Bertschi, vbl’s spokesperson, said: ‘It’s important as a public transport operator to co-operate with all kind of passengers and with their organisations. This year we started a co-operation with a school of children with disabilities. The film is shot. Now we are discussing about a training course for our drivers [that will involve them] sitting in a wheelchair.’
The training could be applied in drivers’ training in other public transport companies, since the needs of visually impaired passengers are the same in other cities.
- Swiss Federal Law on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities (available in German, French and Italian)
- vbl: Public Transport with Handicap (in German)
- Impaired Vision Centre for Central Switzerland (fsz) (in German)
- Mobility Strategy of the City of Lucerne (in German)
- Blind passengers - vbl trains drivers (in German)