Mobility barriers in public transport

It plays the same role in the lives of persons with disabilities, senior citizens or even parents with strollers: mobility. It ranges from your own physical mobility all the way to overcoming short and long distances. But what happens when your mobility is being restricted?


Right now, people who use electric scooters feel restricted and inhibited in Germany. The reason for this is a survey that was published by the Association of German Transport Companies (German: Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmer), VDV. It states that electric scooters represent an increased risk of accidents in public transport (German: ÖPNV). This is why electric scooters are no longer being transported in streetcars and buses in many German cities – such as Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Bremen and Kassel for example.

Not only is this report met with a lack of understanding but also with protests by persons with walking impairments, who use these types of electric scooters. Many of them say they ignore the ban in the respective cities and continue to use public transportation. At this point, even a discrimination lawsuit was filed against a public transportation company in the German Ruhr region.
Photo: Helping MOBIA guides

In more and more cities in Germany not every mobility restricted person is being transported in public transport; © MOBIA

Mobility in old age

The Saarland, on the other hand, has made a completely different effort for quite some time now: the goal of the MOBIA (mobility in old age) project is to make it easier for persons with reduced mobility to use public transportation and thus facilitate participation in public life. The MOBIA guides help passengers with reduced mobility in Saarbücken to board, change or exit public transportation and if needed accompany them from their front door to their desired destination.

What started out as a research project has now been offered since March 1, 2015 as a free service for all Saarbahn GmbH passengers with reduced mobility in Saarbrücken. "The continuation is limited to one year for the time being at the expense of the transportation company," explains Manfred Backes, the project spokesperson. "However, we are planning to gradually expand the concept over the next five years to the regional association and subsequently the entire Saarland."

Foto: Helping MOBIA guide, elderly women using MOBIA app

With the help of an app mobility restricted people can order MOBIA guides to help them in public transport; © MOBIA

Focus on passengers

Backes adds that user acceptance of the service still takes center stage in all efforts when it comes to further developments. "From the start, this was important to us, which is why we have always improved the underlying technology in close collaboration with the target group."

Aside from the software to assign the guides, the MOBIA concept is based on a passenger app with which the guides can be ordered to the desired locations. Approximately 60 test persons for the research project met once a month to discuss their experiences. The result: 80 percent of them had problems with the technology since they had never used a Smartphone before and thought the handling was difficult. "This was a clear sign for us and we promptly created an alternative to the app," says Backes. From then on, the MOBIA guides could also be booked through a phone hotline.

Even though the project is currently only running in Saarbrücken, there are said to be early considerations to offer similar services in Berlin and Munich. "The potential for a nationwide MOBIA application is there," Backes is convinced.

Being mobile in Europe

For Germany‘s ÖPNV, these and other solutions are definitely a good start. Yet to keep up with other European countries, a lot more still needs to happen. Cities like Gothenburg (Sweden), Grenoble (France) or Malaga (Spain) for instance received the European Commission’s Access City Award in 2014 – among other things for the fact that in some cases they provide up to 100 percent barrier-free access in public transportation. In doing so, they make an important contribution to a better level of mobility of persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

Incidentally, as the only German city, Dresden received special mention: with its interactive city guide, the capital city of the free state of Saxony ensures that persons with reduced mobility encounter few if any barriers en route. Similarly to the project by the Berlin Social Hero Association (German: Verein Sozialhelden e.V.), this is another step towards creating an inclusive society. After all, only where barriers do not restrict people can they live a self-determined and mobile life.
More about MOBIA (only in German) at:
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(Translated by Elena O'Meara.)