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New app aims to transform rail travel for passengers with disabilities

A free mobile app to help improve train travel around the UK for passengers with disabilities is being tested by four rail companies, with other operators set to begin trials before a national roll-out.

The Passenger Assist app aims to overhaul the assistance booking process, solving problems faced by some passengers that use the system. Currently, passengers can request assistance online or over the phone before travelling. Types of assistance could include requesting help in boarding a train or moving around the station due to a visual or mobility impairment, requesting assistance with luggage, or booking a wheelchair ramp or on-board wheelchair area.

This information is passed on to staff at the relevant stations, but there is currently no quick way to alert staff if this information suddenly changes – for example, if a passenger will be arriving late or requires extra assistance.

The idea behind Passenger Assist is for both staff and passengers to use the app, giving a more instant form of two-way communication. Passengers can easily book assistance through the app and can also change the request at short notice.

Staff can view booking information in real-time, allowing them to accommodate passengers’ access needs and changes more effectively.

Customers can also set up a user profile on the app with details of relevant conditions or impairments and their specific access needs when travelling. This makes it easier to book repeat journeys without having to repeatedly input the same information – something which the current system requires.

Passenger Assist has been developed by technology company Transreport in partnership with Disability Rights UK, with further input from user groups within RNIB, Scope, Blind Veterans UK and Anxiety UK.

The app is currently being trialled by West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway. Some of the trials began in March, but recent media attention has brought the app and the testing to a wider audience.

Ara Shikhalislami, Transreport’s project manager for Passenger Assist, told e-Access Bulletin that trials with other train companies are scheduled, as “other rail operators are seeing the benefit” of the current trials. The list of other operators has not yet been made public.

Transreport, in partnership with the Rail delivery Group (RDG), will begin making the app available nationally to rail companies later this year for staff to familiarise themselves with the system before the public begins using it. Passenger Assist will then be launched publicly in summer 2019. The app will be free and available on iOS and Android devices.

Asked which rail companies will use the app once launched, Shikhalislami said: “This will be determined by the RDG and the industry itself. As Transreport, we will ensure the app is ready for use by all train operators. However, each train operator will have their own plans to ensure staff and technology will successfully support the roll-out.”

Greater Anglia have published a call-out on their website asking for passengers to test the app on specific routes. Transreport is also requesting for members of the public to help test the system with other train companies. Anyone interested in taking part can email with details of where they are based. Transreport will then send their details to relevant rail operators.

Find out more about Passenger Assist at the Transreport website.


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