Breaking Down Barriers: Inclusivity and Accessibility Gaps in Modern Transit Systems

By ESG Analyst Casey Luk

In recent years, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have gained prominence on the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) agenda. Within organizational contexts, this trend is reflected in the diversity of the workforce, encompassing aspects such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and more.

However, one crucial aspect missing from the ESG discourse is something we all use in our daily lives:  public transportation. With over 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world, 80% of whom reside in low-income countries, the need for safe and accessible transport is far from self-evident. Access to inclusive transport services and facilities is vital for the safety and well-being of all members of society, regardless of their physical abilities, yet 32% of public transportation facilities remain wheelchair-inaccessible, with subway stations being particularly problematic. What has prevented modern transit systems from constructing the vital infrastructure needed to create a more accessible metro experience? And why is it important that we break down these barriers? 

Current Obstacles in Public Transportation Accessibility Initiatives: 

1. Workforce Shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many transit companies, forcing them to implement cost-saving measures like staffing and service reductions, as well as pay freezes. As a result, initiatives aimed at improving accessibility were often sacrificed to ensure financial stability. For instance, in the UK, spaces for wheelchair users to board buses became limited, leaving passengers with reduced mobility having to wait until transport with adequate space arrived. The pandemic’s financial impact still lingers, as evidenced by the fact that  96% of North American agencies surveyed by the Transit Workforce Shortage Study report a workforce shortage, with 84% indicating that this shortage has adversely affected their ability to provide service.

  • Infrastructural Limits

Many metro systems itself face challenges in altering their architectural structures due to limited space. Such conditions increase the technical complexity of installations of accessibility features such as elevators, and how to combine the installation of an elevator with other existing infrastructure works.

A Closer Look at Accessibility Gaps in the Montreal Metro System

In Montreal alone, the metro system serves a staggering 1.36 million passengers per day. It is evident that this user base includes individuals with reduced mobility and disabilities. Despite Société de Transport de Montréal (STM)’s efforts to achieve universal accessibility through their current metro station facilities, several significant accessibility gaps persist, which can be categorized into two dimensions: vertical accessibility and informational accessibility.

  • Vertical Accessibility

Characterised by elevators, escalators, and staircases, vertical accessibility ensures that all users can navigate seamlessly from the upper level to the platform. However, according to Omer Juma, an entrepreneur who launched the “4 days 4 lines” project, a comprehensive audit of vertical accessibility at Montreal metro stations, revealed that 76% of stations lack elevators in at least one of their entrances, and 47% of them have at least one entrance without an escalator. This creates substantial barriers for people with disabilities when using the metro system.

  • Informational accessibility 

Metro station maps are often too small for people to read and lack accessibility features like Braille, or audio guidance, which presents significant challenges for people with visual and/or hearing impairments. Obtaining essential information about the metro station, such as the locations of convenience stores, ticket vending machines, and customer service centers, becomes a daunting task, even with the assistance of other wayfinding tools such as guide dogs or canes. Additionally, tactile pavings are only installed at the platform’s edge, creating disruptions in the seamless journey for visually impaired individuals.

In conclusion, the quest for DEI has made significant strides in various spheres, yet accessibility in modern transit systems needs to be addressed more. Breaking down these barriers is not just a matter of convenience; it is about ensuring equal access and inclusion for everyone. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can pave the way for a more accessible and equitable future.