Seeing your way around trams and trains

Graeme Turner
People who are blind or who have vision impairments tell some of their stories of using public transport. Sometimes the loudspeaker announcements on trains tell these people the wrong station. Sometimes drivers forget to tell these people the right tram stops. Some blind users think that drivers should know their tram and bus routes. Users might try to complain but it doesn't work. Drivers need to learn how to deal with blind people.
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Graeme Turner on 12/04/2013
A person getting onto a tram at a tram stop
person getting onto tram at tram stop

Drivers of trams, trains and buses need to learn how to deal with blind people

If there's one thing more challenging than dealing with the press of bodies on a peak-hour tram or train, it's handling this environment when you have a vision impairment. Sometimes, not only do zoned-out teenagers using digital music players not offer a seat; it's even difficult to grab a pole or a handhold.

What are the real challenges faced by those with vision impairment on public transport?

Audio announcements

Amanda McNeill, who has a vision impairment, is critical of the quality and accuracy of automated audio announcements on trains. She needs to be ready to step off at Richmond but the on-board train speakers blithely inform her she's reached Burnley - one station further on. The announcements are often muffled or breaking up and you can't hear them at all, she adds.

She is particularly annoyed by the failure of destination announcements on stations. Once, a train she was on was re-routed from Lilydale to Glen Waverley.

I had to get off on a cold wet night, and cross a bridge which was slippery and just about falling apart, she says.

She needed to return to Richmond station and wait for another train bound for Lilydale. She lodged a complaint and was told that sometimes trains were re-routed.

Helen Ferrars, who is blind, also laments the lack of consistent announcements on trams through the centre of Melbourne. She notes on the very day of our conversation that announcements were not forthcoming from the driver on two occasions. She has resolved to register complaints by telephone every time this occurs – so far with little success.

She believes that automated announcements should be placed on trams. In this way they are not relying on the driver's ability to hear or understand directions, or to memorise which stop is required. It really shouldn't be something which depends on human factors, she says.


Amanda asks tram drivers to inform her when they arrive at her stop. Sometimes they forget. On one occasion it was only from another passenger that Amanda was told about the stop in time. Drivers are not required to carry street directories or GPS equipment. Companies claim that the use of a street directory will slow a driver.

When it comes to bus drivers, some go out of their way to help, even to escorting blind people across the road. Others don't care.

I've had some excellent drivers and some absolute shockers, says Amanda.

Drivers of trains and trams are sometimes barely aware that a blind person is even trying to get to on board. When once I nearly stepped between two carriages, and later told the stationmaster about it, I was reassuringly told that the driver had no idea I was on the platform.

There is a feeling by those with vision impairment that drivers of all forms of transport need training in dealing with blind travellers. And preferably, some of that training should be delivered by those who are blind or vision impaired, insists Helen.

There is not a great track record, so to speak, on the resolution of complaints lodged by those with blindness. It seems that despite the fine-sounding phrases on transport provider websites, there is perhaps quite a distance to travel to meet the needs of commuters who are blind. Maybe with training, the scales of awareness could be lifted from the eyes of drivers so that they are not solely focused on timetables, but so that they can really see the needs of blind travellers. Maybe some of them need to be told which stop to get off.

Helen's opinion is clear. I look forward to a time when public transport doesn't impose barriers on people with disabilities and who are vision impaired. I look forward to a time when the experience of using public transport is as straightforward as possible for everyone.

What kind of experience have you had on public transport?

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