The effectiveness and accessibility of bus stops depends not only on where they are or how they are equipped and designed but also on how easy they are to access. Bus stops should be accessible for the elderly, children's-trolleys and the disabled. Bus stops should also be easy accessible for pedestrians and, where appropriate, for cyclists and passengers arriving by car. The access to a bus stop may be defined by how many people can reach the bus stop, relative to its catchment area, and how easy the bus stop is to reach by different modes.
How close the bus stops are located affects the average access distance for pedestrians, while street lightning, adequate pavement widths, quality surfaces and weather protection for the pedestrian network adjacent to the bus stop all affect the quality of access (HITRANS 2005c). The walking distance to a bus stop in urban areas should not be longer than 400 metres (in a straight line) resulting in an average distance between bus stops of again 400 metres, but this can range from 100-1,000 metres depending upon local circumstances (e.g. hilly areas, peripheral settlements). The optimum distance between stops is a trade-off between two aspects:
Speed of the service: The demand at key locations vs. the time penalty incurred at each stop added,
Coverage of the service: The walking time ‘origin – bus’ stop vs. the subsequent travel time in the bus.
Bus stop access can be entirely focused on pedestrian access from adjacent land uses or can include ‘regional’ access through the provision of covered or open car and / or bicycle parks. The type of parking facility and the number of spaces should be related to the nature of the market that the bus stop serves and the adjacent physical travel time for customers arriving by car / bicycle from outside the bus stop area. Where they are well-designed and are in the right place, parking facilities can expand the reach of the public transport system. When planning a bus stop, the bicycle parking (if needed for integrating bikes and public transport) should be placed very close to the bus stop: it is important that cyclists do not have to take a circuitous route in order to park their bikes.
Platform height affects the ability of disabled or mobility-impaired passengers to board the vehicle. Passengers traditionally board vehicles by stepping from a low kerb up to the first step of the vehicle, then climbing additional steps. Platforms at the same height as the vehicle floor can enhance the customer’s experience and reduce dwell times if some approach to providing no-gap, no-step boarding and alighting is adopted through the provision of drop ramps or precision vehicle-docking. Of course there are many more criteria a bus stop has to fulfil in order to be accessible. In some countries (e.g. Sweden, The Netherlands) the kerb has to be of a certain height given by national standards (e.g. Sweden > 17 cm, The Netherlands = 18 cm) but this gives an indication.
In addition to the platform height, the pavement of the platform has a high importance for vision-disabled persons. Tactile ground surface indicators with high visual contrast improve the accessibility for this user group and contribute to a better recognition of the bus stop by all passengers.
The distance between the platform and the bus floor should be as close as possible (e.g. for wheelchair users to bridge the existing gap). Features such as ‘Kassel kerbs’ (a special kerb stone format guiding the bus to the stop without damaging the tyre wall) help the driver to reduce the gap is as to make optimal use of existing infrastructure.
In order to make it possible for everyone to travel on buses, it must be possible for everyone to access the bus stops and enter the buses. The locations of bus stops are important as they need to be close to the place that they are planned to serve. The following aspects are of importance in order to achieve an accessible bus stop:
Avoid changes of level since they cause problems for many users including anyone carrying anything or those looking after elderly people or children.
Stairways and ramps all restrict the capacity of bus stops to cope with crowds.
Locate stops so that in order to reach major traffic generators passengers do not need to cross the road used by the bus.
Direct passengers towards clearly defined safe crossings rather than doing nothing to deter indiscriminate movement.
Locate such crossings in an appropriate safe location.
The bus driver must have adequate visibility of people approaching the stop from every direction.
Consider appropriate sign-posting or tactile pavements for vision-disabled persons.
Locate segregated alignment crossings so that people will tend to cross behind rather than in front of departing vehicles by the use of staggered platforms where possible.
Provide safety measures at crossings.
Co-ordinate pedestrian crossing signals with vehicle movements as part of the priority system.
Provide benches for elderly and disabled
In order to reach high accessibility standards, the set-up of an investment plan for future yearsmay help to improve the current situation in a structured way.
There are some further aspects influencing the location of bus stops besides network planning issues. Road safety conditions (e.g. avoiding bus stops in curves with bad visibility of moving traffic for motorists and bus drivers) or priority measures (e.g. locating a bus stop in front of a traffic light to use the ‘red light’ for set down / boarding of passengers) have to be considered as well. This may sometimes result in compromises between different demands on locating bus stops.
Whilst social inclusiveness is a key goal of making bus stops accessible it should also be remembered that making a bus stop accessible can also increase the attractiveness of bus stops to all users.
As well as the features of the bus stop itself, accessibility is also determined by how close to the kerb the bus gets, and is able to get, to allow unrestricted level boarding.
Grenoble (France): 80% of bus stops in Grenoble are fully accessible with raised pavements (gentle slopes) and tactile surfaces for guidance and safety. Almost all buses are low floor and fitted with wheelchair ramps.