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Accessible Wayfinding for Transit Facilities: Narrative Routes and Real-time Location Information


Due to changing demographics in the US, an increasing number of people have cognitive, physical or sensory challenges that make wayfinding in transit facilities difficult. Seniors who are no longer able to drive are able to maintain their independence and active involvement in the community if they live in areas well-served by public transit, and they are able and willing to use it. However, many are reluctant to do so because they fear getting confused about where to go, and feel vulnerable when they need assistance. People who are visually impaired, a majority of whom are over the age of 65, are not well-served by conventional signage and wayfinding information in transit facilities such as complex, inter-modal stations and terminals. Many disabled travelers rely on expensive paratransit, driving up the cost to transportation agencies. Research is needed to develop and validate wayfinding systems that help seniors or disabled persons travel with confidence in indoor and outdoor transit facilities, including intermodal facilities. Great strides have been made toward providing rail and bus passenger vehicles and facilities that are accessible to travelers with mobility impairments, thus providing more cost-effective service to these travelers than paratransit. However, wayfinding information is either unavailable or not sufficiently effective for many seniors and people with mobility, cognitive or visual impairments to enable them to use regular transit, especially when the routes they would like to travel involve travel through multi-modal facilities. Human factors research is needed on two interrelated topics: 1) Narrative routes and real-time location information; and 2) Tactile pathways. The expense of human factors research suggests that the issue of accessible wayfinding for transit facilities be divided into two projects which could be funded separately. Ideally, the two projects would proceed simultaneously, but they could also be done sequentially. The argument in favor of a simultaneous approach is that narrative routes and real-time location information can be simpler if tactile pathways are provided, and that tactile pathways alone do not enable advance planning for traveling in transit facilities. These are complementary treatments. If they can be developed and evaluated concurrently, there will be efficiencies in use of human resources and in the cost of human factors research.


The objective of the combined projects will be to produce guidance for transit planners, based on the results of the research, that will help to ensure that any wayfinding system provided for senior or disabled travelers will provide the information they need, in formats that they can understand and use to travel independently and confidently, in both simple and complex indoor and outdoor transit stations and terminals.

The product of this research will be guidance on the following topics, for inclusion in a Guidebook for Accessible Wayfinding in Transit Facilities (the Guidebook itself to be completed as part of the related project).

3.1 Guidelines for making wayfinding information available on transit websites accessible to and usable by seniors and disabled travelers, including travelers who are visually impaired or blind, and for augmenting available information with additional information of special relevance for seniors and disabled travelers.

3.2 Recommendations for the structure and content of “narrative maps” (such as virtual tours of a station and detailed instructions for traveling between landmarks) accessible by any web-capable accessible user interface a traveler may have and prefer, or by any smartphone or telephone using interactive voice response, including special information for different user groups (e.g. routes that avoid stairs; tactile and audible landmarks), vocabulary, sequencing and metrics, as well as the amount of information to make available as an overview of a large space, or in each segment of route instructions

3.3 Criteria for selecting accessible real-time indoor/outdoor location technology from technologies currently available or under development, considering cost and acceptability of user-interfaces, and life-time cost to transit systems.

A Final Report will include a synthesis of accessible wayfinding systems, and presentation of methods and outcomes of surveys and human factors research conducted under this project.


As the population of US citizens who are elderly or disabled climbs sharply, the cost of paratransit increases disproportionately. The Paratransit Peer Report-2011, reporting on a survey of 14 transit properties around the US, found per/trip direct costs/transportation only, ranged from $24.26 to $60.97. The Transit Sustainability Project(2011), reporting on the paratransit experience of 19 San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies, found that paratransit accounted for 5.4% of the total operating cost for public transit, but only 0.8% of total public transit ridership. The average operating cost of a paratransit trip was $32 compared to $4.59 for fixed-route transit. Provision of accessible wayfinding information has the potential to reduce the total budget impact of paratransit.

Related Research:

There is currently no comprehensive wayfinding system applicable to indoor as well as outdoor transit facilities, to serve the needs of travelers who have vision, mobility and memory impairments common amongst senior travelers. The following accessible wayfinding technologies have been developed or are under development that are applicable to indoor environments: augmented GPS; Talking Signs; Talking Lights; ClickAndGo; PERCEPT; ByteLight; WifiSLAM; RFID tags, and PALS-cloud. All of these are converging on providing speech wayfinding information via a smartphone. This research should not duplicate these technological efforts, but should center on the nature of the wayfinding information that could be provided by any of these systems. There is no research currently directed toward the nature of the wayfinding information needed by seniors or travelers with disabilities.

TCRP Report 12 Guidelines for Transit Facility Signing and Graphics (1996) provides guidance for print and tactile signage in transit facilities that complies with the ADA, however tactile signage cannot be easily located by travelers who are visually impaired and there are no ADA specifications for making the information on wayfinding signs accessible. This report provides limited information on only one type of audible signage (Talking Signs) that was implemented as a demonstration project in a single transit facility, that requires installation and maintenance of transmitters, and that does not facilitate route planning (Crandall et al. 1999). Evaluating wayfinding systems for blind and partially sighted customers at stations (2010) considered the RNIB React system, which requires installation and maintenance of remotely triggered loudspeakers, does not facilitate route planning, and was reported to have difficulties in integration with existing rail systems.

ACRP 7-13 Development of an Airport Wayfinding System for Elderly or Disabled Travelers, will address some of the same issues, and there may be some convergence of the research and of the relevant technologies, however the needs in airports versus transit facilities are somewhat different.


The proposed research should consider at least: 1) information about transit facilities that may be provided on the web in accessible format, and customized to meet the needs of travelers who are seniors or disabled; and 2) Information about the wayfinding information needs and preferences of senior or disabled travelers, including user-interfaces. The following major tasks are envisioned.

4.1 Review and summarize the state-of-the-art for accessible wayfinding technology

4.2 Conduct a survey to establish wayfinding requirements and preferences of travelers who are seniors or who have disabilities, including visual impairments.

4.3 Based on the results of 4.1 and 4.2, implement an accessible wayfinding system for a portion of a transit system including a relatively simple indoor and outdoor multimodal facilities (such as a light rail station located in a median, or an underground station served by one line, and a related bus stop), and a relatively large and complex multi-modal station

4.3.1 Accessible and customized web-based wayfinding information enabling trip planning

4.3.2 Narrative maps (overviews and specific routes) accessed by user-interfaces in common use by elderly or visually impaired travelers

4.3.3 Real-time location technology such as GPS, iBeacon, RFID, or wi-fi

4.3.4 Simplified tactile and low-vision maps

4.4 Conduct human factors testing in that portion of the transit system, with at least two groups of participants (seniors; visually impaired), with each individual traveling to destinations using the customized information accessed by travelers’ own web-capable technology or by telephone

4.5 Conduct focus groups with each group to refine the recommendations for selecting and presenting wayfinding information.

4.6 Analyze results of human factors testing and focus groups

4.7 Prepare Final Report and guidance to be incorporated in a Guidebook for Accessible Wayfinding in Transit Facilities (to be completed as part of a project on Accessible Wayfinding in Transit Facilities: Tactile Pathways).


Implementation of accessible wayfinding systems in transit facilities, with particular attention to making multi-modal wayfinding easier, will support increased livability in urban and suburban environments for senior or disabled travelers, providing them with greater opportunity to participate in social, economic, medical, educational and spiritual activities. Guidelines resulting from this research could be the basis for an APTA Standards Recommended Practice document related to both accessibility and mobility management which encourages the most effective and cost-effective use of existing and emerging wayfinding resources to provide customized service to senior or disabled users of fixed-route transit services.

Sponsoring Committee:AME50, Accessible Transportation and Mobility
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Billie Louise (Beezy) Bentzen, PhD, Director of Research Accessible Design for the Blind 25 Village Lane Berlin, MA 01503 978 838 2307 bbentzen@accessforblind.org www.accessforblind.org
Source Info:Crandall, W., Brabyn, J., Bentzen, B., & Myers, L. (1999). Remote infrared signage evaluation for transit stations and intersections. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. 36, 341- 355.
Evaluating wayfinding systems for blind and partially sighted customers at stations (T881 Report) (2010). Rail Safety and Standards Board, London, UK.
Paratransit Peer Report - January 2011. New York City Transit. Department of Buses Paratransit Division, Brooklyn, NY
TCRP Report 12 Guidelines for Transit Facility Signing and Graphics (1996). Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences.
Transit Sustainability Project, Draft Paratransit Final Report, (2011). Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates , San Francisco, California
Date Posted:05/18/2015
Date Modified:07/07/2015
Index Terms:Wayfinding, Aged, Human factors engineering, Multimodal transportation, Real time information, Mobility, Intermodal terminals, Transportation disadvantaged persons, Routes and routing, Location,
Cosponsoring Committees:ACH40, Human Factors of Infrastructure Design and Operations; AP045, Passenger Intermodal Facilities
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Safety and Human Factors
Transportation (General)
Terminals and Facilities

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