How Transperth leveraged design thinking to improve access for vision impaired passengers

The transport company recently implemented a design thinking approach to boost customer engagement and access for the vision impaired

Adopting a design thinking approach has enabled Perth public transport provider, Transperth, to overcome physical and operational hurdles and deliver a better experience for vision impaired travellers.

The Western Australian city state’s Public Transport Authority recently invested $217 million into building Perth Busport, which included a state of the art Dynamic Stand Management System (DSMS). But according to Transperth manager of business technology, Oren Vandersteen, the unique approach taken to departure notifications raised a serious problem for consumers who have a vision impairment.

Unlike the traditional fixed-stand system used by the majority of bus stations globally, the DSMS allocated buses to stand for approximately two minutes before departure, meaning passengers were required to keep an eye on screens displaying which stand their bus would depart from. 

“With no audio announcements, this system presented a challenge for Transperth’s vision impaired passengers, who would be unable to determine what stand they need to leave from,” Vandersteen told CMO. “As such, we needed to develop a solution that ensured passengers with vision impairment were able to independently access bus services from Perth Busport.

“Our main challenge was finding a way for passengers with a visual impairment to know which bus stand to go to within the 2-5 minute notification window.”

Importantly, a working, tested solution needed to be found within two months, before the Busport opened.

Implementing the right design-based solution

In order to overcome these logistical challenges, Transperth partnered with agency, Hatchd, to design a solution under the Transperth Assist project that would specifically cater to the needs of visually impaired users and allow them to have the same great experience at the Perth Busport as other commuters.

“Hatchd worked effectively to understand the key challenges people with disabilities might have when travelling on a public transport network and how these were overcome,” Vandersteen claimed. “Once they’d thoroughly investigated existing methods, Hatchd began to design a solution and worked with Adapptor to develop an app that could be used by anyone, whether they were visually impaired or not.”

Key to finding a solution was understanding exactly what issues and difficulties the visually impaired experienced when using public transport. Hatchd invested a significant amount of time into the research stage to truly understand the context of the situation.

This included running focus groups and conducting interviews to understand the travelling experience from start to finish, the problems and challenges faced and whether they felt our original ideas would bring relief to these pain points, Vandersteen explained.

“These research groups discussed their transit challenges.  They also looked into how other available apps/solutions helped, as well as where they fell short,” he said. “In addition, they were shown basic sketch prototypes and had the opportunity to give Hatchd their feedback.”

The insights Transperth learned from the research process then guided the key design principles for the project and allowed for a method of delivery to be decided upon, in the form of the new ‘Transperth Assist’ app.

“By developing a functional prototype before the wider launch, the app tested and refined by visually impaired commuters ahead of the Busport’s opening, improving the app for the wider market,” Vandersteen added.

Benefits to end user and long-term business reputation

Thanks to the Transperth Assist App, customers with a vision impairment are now able to independently use Perth Busport without seeking assistance.

“We’ve seen an increased number of visually impaired commuters using the app and the Busport and we’ve seen reputational benefits, with Public Transport Authority being positioned as an innovative leader in responding to our customer needs,” Vandersteen said.

Transperth was also able to gain insight into a key user group and develop a targeted solution for the visually impaired.

“Regardless of industry, the customer or end user has to be prioritised,” Vandersteen said. “When working to come up with a solution for a problem, the solution should be designed with the customer’s needs at front of mind.”

Vandersteen highlighted the importance of design thinking – a process in which the needs of the end user are prioritised at every step.

“Prioritising empathy was key in this project,” he continued. “It would have been very easy to create a solution for the able-bodied passenger but it was vital we recognised the abilities and limitations of the visually impaired and create a solution that provided them with a world-class experience, like the existing experience available at the Perth Busport.

“We attribute design thinking to the success of the project. Hatchd looked at which characteristics the overall solution required in order to truly deliver benefits to users and then worked collaboratively with our marketing and technical teams to develop an ideal solution.”

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