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Railways Adopt Apps To Improve Accessibility For Wheelchair Users

Railway operators in and outside Tokyo are turning to smartphone apps to make their services more accessible and convenient for passengers that use wheelchairs.

Under one new system, an app allows station staff to internally share the information of where passengers board trains and at what time they will arrive at their destinations, so that they can help them get on and off.

This eliminates problems caused by conventional handwritten notes and miscommunication that can happen over the phone.

Tsuyoshi Nakamura, vice chair of a nonprofit organization called the Tokyo Barrier-Free Council, described the emergence of these new applications as “an interesting development.”

“It is ideal that appointments can be made through these apps to get the help of railway staff. But it would be difficult for rail operators to assign necessary personnel and cover the costs, given their financial struggles resulting from the coronavirus crisis,” Nakamura said. “The government should bear a larger part.”

BETTER TRACK RECORD

This past spring, Tokyo Metro Co. introduced a smartphone app for employees working at 170 stations along all its rail lines.

Station staffers enter details about the passenger’s trip, including which car they are in. Staff need to scan QR codes on platform safety doors with their mobile devices to confirm the passengers’ destinations and prevent errors.

Their arrival time is sent to the smartphones of staff waiting for the wheelchair passengers at their destinations. An alarm sounds on the phones when the passenger’s train is only a few stations away.

Previously, the passengers would tell station employees about their trip, and staff would write it all down on paper. The specifics would then be conveyed to the destination stations over the phone.

But workers at a busy station typically have to field some 70 trips like this a day and sometimes make errors–especially during rush hours.

A Tokyo Metro representative explained that “scribbled notes can sometimes turn out to be impossible to figure out during peak hours and that can make a mess of responding to passengers’ needs.”

Tokyo Metro now has about 1,500 smartphones for station staff and has installed 150 tablet computers at station offices since spring, bringing the app into wider use.

That has practically eliminated the need for sharing information read from messy handwritten notes over the phone.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) made a similar app available at all 30 Yamanote Line stations in March this year.

Tablet devices share key information about wheelchair passengers, such as their car numbers, their locations within the cars, whether they are accompanied by assistants and what kind of wheelchair they use.

The system is being put into place for the Nanbu and Keiyo lines as well. JR East is considering bringing it to more lines in the Tokyo metropolitan region.

FEWER GAPS TO MIND

In July, Tokyu Railways Co. started using an app that shares platform specifications. When a station is selected, it pulls up information about steps and gaps between the train and the edge of the platform.

Under the government’s standards, straight platforms along concrete-based rail tracks should have “gaps up to 7 centimeters and steps up to 3 cm.”

The app highlights the platform locations that meet those standards in pink.

According to Tokyu Railways, there are spots that meet the standards on 92 platforms across 57 stations, though certain routes such as the Setagaya Line do not have those safer zones.

“We will help passengers when they would like us to do so,” said a Tokyu Railways official. “But we believe the service is essential because some people hope to (travel) without our assistance.”


Source: Railways Adopt Apps To Improve Accessibility For Wheelchair Users

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