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‘UNIACCESS’ promotes better transport for all citizens

On 20-21 March 2006, the EU-funded UNIACCESS project held a workshop for European local authorities. The objective was to broaden the discussion and accelerate progress on accessible public transport for the disabled.

© Peter Gutierrez

Among the fundamental tenets of the European Union are freedom and equality of opportunity for all. The ability to access and use public transport can be a crucial part of this, of central importance in getting to work, enjoying entertainment or buying products and services. While the Union believes that people with different degrees of mobility – including the elderly, people with babies or shopping bags, pregnant women or people with disabilities – should all enjoy the same degree of comfort and convenience when using public transport, many citizens still face significant constraints and challenges.

Speaking to UNIACCESS workshop participants at the POLIS headquarters in Brussels, Member of the European Parliament Robert Evans said, “I am passionate about this issue, and so are many of my colleagues in the European Parliament. We’ve made great progress; today’s public transport is vastly improved over what it was 20 years ago, but we still have much work to do. Europe has a long history of promoting equality of opportunity for all its citizens, and we have a duty to address these challenges, to continue to work to ensure full access for everyone.”

Image of Robert Evans
Robert Evans (right)

“Accessible transport is quality transport,” said Maria Nyman of the European Disability Forum. “Research has shown that use of public transport goes up, even among the non-disabled, when it is made accessible to the disabled. Today, people with reduced mobility are still being denied their full rights. More than anything, they just want to be treated like everyone else.”

How to move forward

The way to guarantee full access, say UNIACCESS partners, is to ensure that the whole of the public transport system, including railway transport, buses, taxis and supporting infrastructure, is conceived, built and operated with universal accessibility as a basic precept.

“The goal of the project is to promote and support the networking and coordination of research and innovation activities in this field,” explained UNIACCESS coordinator Sara Sillaurren of Spain’s GIAT-EUVE. “We are also working to define new collaborative processes; we want to find the best ways to proceed, identifying knowledge and technology gaps and emerging concepts through exchange of information and experiences.”

Image of Patrick Mercier-Handisyde and Maria Nyman
Patrick Mercier-Handisyde and Maria Nyman

For the European Commission, research remains a powerful tool for bridging the accessibility gap. “Transport is a major driver of the European economy,” said Patrick Mercier-Handisyde, EU Project Officer for road research. Outlining important opportunities for funding under the Commission’s Framework Programme for R&D, he said, “Our goal is to achieve a seamless transport system, linking all modes and guaranteeing access to all. We have a lot to do and we are doing a lot, with new buses, trams and more.

“The important thing is that we are working together,” he added, “manufacturers, operators and passengers. The Technology Platforms, including ERTRAC, are doing a great deal to bring all views and opinions together and have been very influential in the development of the next Framework Programme (FP7). I encourage you to make your results known to all those who have stake in this important field.”

UNIACCESS Partners say they intend to do just that, aiming to maximise the benefits of the initiative through a strong programme of information dissemination and public awareness.