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The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced a first-of-its-kind competition to find new ways to improve transport accessibility, which will see the UK Government invest up to £500,000 in projects that can improve access to services or inspire more confidence in disabled people.

DfT launched the Accessible Technology Research and Innovation Grant (A-TRIG) to mark Purple Tuesday on 3 November 2020. Purple Tuesday is a day that takes place annually, focusing on changing the customer experience for disabled people and calls on businesses to take decisive, practical actions to meet the needs of disabled customers.

Projects that can receive up to £500,000 in government funding could provide a range of practical solutions that remove physical barriers, make it easier to access information, automate processes, or see better support for travellers.

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Example projects include ways for visually impaired passengers to identify the bus they want to catch, smartphone apps to report inaccessibility and track progress, and a Wayfinder-style system to plan bus journeys.

Previously, DfT has funded a mobile phone app to help people with dementia use public transport to get to hospital.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Everybody’s way of travelling has been affected by COVID-19, but none more so than those who are disabled. While essential in tackling the virus I know the widespread use of masks, social distancing and changed timetables has been disconcerting for people with accessibility issues.

“I want to harness the power of technology to improve accessibility for disabled people through COVID and beyond. Today’s funding will play a key role by finding new and innovative ideas and projects to break down barriers and could make a massive difference to people’s lives.”

The department’s Access for All programme has now provided 200 stations with better access across Great Britain, with around 100 more to be completed by 2024 – a quarter of these in Scotland and Wales.

DfT adds that the continued success of the Access for All programme, and accessibility improvements delivered as part of other station enhancement projects, means that more than 75 percent of rail journeys are now through stations with step-free access, compared with around 50 percent in 2005.

The new competition comes as the department publishes its two-year update on its Inclusive Transport Strategy (ITS), highlighting the work delivered – including expanding Blue Badges to hidden disabilities; launching the ‘It’s everyone’s journey’ public awareness campaign; and funding 59 Changing Places toilets in motorway services, seven of which have now opened – with more to do so next year.

As part of this, DfT has also launched the Inclusive Transport Leaders Scheme and is announcing the first companies to receive accreditation under the scheme.

Brighton and Hove Buses and Hovertravel have achieved the highest status as ‘Leaders’, with Network Rail and Arriva Kent and Surrey receiving ‘Committed’ status. The ‘Leaders’ demonstrate best practice and can share their experience with others, while ‘Committed’ members have demonstrated a good foundation on which to build better services for disabled passengers. More transport operators will be invited to join shortly.

Mike Adams OBE, Founder and Creator of Purple Tuesday, commented: “The new grant represents a landmark moment in the history of accessible transport. From booking tickets on inaccessible websites to physical access issues on transport routes, journeys on public transport are disproportionately challenging for disabled people. This grant has the potential to be a step-change for disabled people’s experiences on public transport.”

Transport companies are also being urged to use free disability training resources, being published shortly by DfT, to train their staff so disabled people have a consistent and positive experience, regardless of transport mode, helping overcome one of the biggest barriers to confident travel along with infrastructure enhancements.

The training has been designed with the involvement of disabled people and will help change the way staff interact with and support all passengers.

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