Published June 20, 2023
Paul Day, who has used Stevenage station for 40 years, said being guided remotely was “actually quite useful” By Kate Bradbrook
BBC News, Hertfordshire
An app to help blind or partially sighted rail passengers is being trialled at Stevenage station.
The Aira wayfinding app guides passengers via a remote operator who looks through their smartphone camera.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which is trialling the third party app at four stations, believes it is the first train company in the UK to do so.
The company said it was “always looking for innovative ways of enabling everyone to travel”.
Accessibility engagement manager, Antony Merlyn, said: “Giving people the confidence to travel is really important to us.”
In the year-long trial, passengers at Stevenage, London Blackfriars, East Croydon and Brighton can ask an advisor speaking to them on their phone to help them with anything from checking the departure board and locating a platform, to finding a member of staff, ticket machine or toilet.
The train operator is working on the trial with Sight Loss Councils, regional groups of blind and partially sighted volunteers, whose key priority is access to public transport.
Samantha Leftwich, 34, from the Thomas Pocklington Trust, which funds the councils, is severely sight-restricted and said it was “really interesting” using the app at a station she had only been to twice before.
“Having access to an agent who has been trained to describe things in detail has been really useful,” she said.
She added that when neither she or the advisor could clearly see the time of the next train, the agent helped her find a member of staff for more assistance.
Paul Day, 56, who has light perception only, has been using the station for 40 years but still found the app useful.
“When it’s quite loud and there’s a lot of people running in all directions it’s very easy to get disorientated,” he said.
“To be guided by that person remotely was actually quite useful.”
Mr Merlyn said passengers will have free access to the app during the trial and it was important to get as much feedback as possible as to how useful they found it as an aid to help them confidently navigate stations.
“Then we’ll be in a really good place to make a decision about any potential wider roll out beyond the four stations we are currently trialling it at,” he said.