ACADEMIC STUDY CONFIRMS: PUBLIC TRANSPORT NOT ADAPTED TO THE ELDERLY
In the margin of Busworld, an interesting seminar brought some new insights about a frequently forgotten group of public transport users: the elderly. There is no doubt about the aging of the population. The question is whether public transport operators are conducting a policy adapted to this target group. The answer is no, according to the study by Professor Christian Haas of Frenesius University (D). It is not about wheelchair users, but about people who are getting slower in their movements, in taking decisions, who do not see or hear that well anymore due to their age.
Together with IVECO BUS and DB REGIO, professor Haas looked for the bottlenecks and possible solutions. Iveco Bus does no longer require introduction. DB Regio, subsidiary of the German Railways operates 5,000 own buses and another 8,000 buses on top of that through leased lines. Worth the effort for both parties to call in the help of professor Haas and his research team to map out the problems and provide solutions.
The objectives were as follows: elderly people have a right of access to mobility, they should be able to participate in social activities, how do we keep them on the bus or how do we get new elderly people on the bus, and not unimportantly: more passengers (probably in the off-peak hours) generate more revenue, increasing the profitability of the transport company.
Finding: apart from the introduction of low floor buses and low entry buses in the late 80s, hardly anything specifically for elderly people has been done.
Prof. Haas conducted medical and sociopsychological research. He is particularly pleased to work with and for Iveco Bus and DB Regio because – as he says himself – his research work can provide concrete solutions to the benefit of people.
Some cases can provide some clarification. Apart from the issue of entry and exit, the question is: how do I get to a seat before the bus leaves? If this is not easy, people stay at the door although standing up should not be an option. Measurements were made during accelerating, braking and turning. It appears that elderly people sustain – on one leg – as much force as up to 169% of their body weight. Above that point, standing becomes inconvenient. It should be clear that the older person will want to sit down as soon as possible.
Prof. Haas’ team also measured in a stationary bus how much time an older person needs between boarding the bus and go and sit on a random free seat. A healthy older person needs 50 seconds, a slightly older one needs 100 seconds and a weak older person needs 150. Extrapolated on 615 million passengers per year (DB Regio), this gives the following figures:
In case of an increase by 10% of older people 7,830 hours, in case of an increase by 25% 19,575 hours. In case of an increase by 10% of weaker older peple 26,626 hours, in case of an increase by 25% up to 64,063 hours. If the flow in the buses does not improve, this will have disastrous consequences for the commercial speed and operating costs.
Other studies focused on the speed at which decisions are made. Subjects had to go and sit on a designated seat, indicated by an icon. Young people needed 6 to 7 seconds, older people 50 to 60 seconds. Through cameras that followed the eyes, it was found that the elderly not only have a narrower range of vision, but also that they are distracted by bright colours. Handles and bars in bright yellow must be avoided. Also the meaning of the icons is hardly known. On top of that, these are different among the various operators, even when they are active in the same area. A European uniformity urges and regular information campaigns by the transport companies are necessary as well.
What also came to light is the unadjusted height of the seats. Some older people voluntarily chose seats on platforms. Not to climb it first and then sit down, but to go sit on the seat from the normal floor and then pull their feet on the platform. The R107 regulations determine that the top of the seating surface should be around 430 mm above the floor. This is too low to be able to get up smoothly. Bed manufacturers already picked this up and offer higher beds for elderly people. A solution would be to adjust the R107 regulation and to bring the height of some reserved seats to 658 mm.
Another problem lies in the seats just behind the front axis. These – often reserved for elderly people – seats are against the driving direction. Elderly people have orientation problems more often than young people, so when they are on such a seat, they do not always know where to get out of the bus. Although they have to make a little climb for it, older people prefer to sit right in before or even on above the drive shaft. This gives them a better overview of the front of the bus which gives them a more pleasant feeling.
Access with a rollator through the front door seems not to be that easy either. Nevertheless, elder people (even without a rollator) prefer to get in at the front of the bus where the driver notices them. They hope that the driver will not leave until they have found a seat or at least will not accelerate too much.
And there were other interesting cases. The conclusion of prof. Haas was that the manufacturers and operators should take into account the neuromechanics of people who are growing older when it comes to development, engineering and specifications. A matter Iveco Bus and DB Regio jointly commit themselves to. The professor and his team will continue to test the proposals and changes. See you again in a few years.