UK’s transport system failing people with mental health issues

Operators of transport such as buses and trains need to do more to support people with mental health difficulties to help them travel, a new survey has revealed.

A survey of 385 people by University College of London found that the behaviour of strangers, worrying about getting lost and having to speak to strangers were some of the biggest concerns about using public transport for British adults with mental illnesses.

Other worries included the availability of suitable public toilets, and concerns about what to do if a bus or train is diverted or breaks down.

People are particularly anxious about these concerns in rural areas which have lower quality service provision, the survey found.

Emeritus Prof. Roger Mackett (UCL Transport Studies) said: ‘This report presents sound evidence about the difficulties that people with mental health conditions face whenever they travel.

‘Many of the issues could be addressed by improving the understanding of the public, transport staff and employers about mental health and by involving people with mental health conditions in the design of wayfinding systems on paper and websites and in the design of buses and trains.’

UCL’s survey was carried out via an online questionnaire, which was distributed by 18 organisations including TfL, SANE and Anxiety UK.

The survey revealed that people with mental illnesses often miss out on better transport deals and travel support due to uncertainties surrounding their health.

Over a third of respondents to the survey said they are frequently unable to leave home due to their mental health, while over half said they do not buy cheaper advance rail tickets due to not knowing how they’ll feel on the day of travel.

While support instruments such as Disabled Person’s Railcards, concessionary bus passes or ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges are often available for people with specific needs on public transport, very few respondents said they actually own them, even though many said they would encourage them to travel more, the survey found.

The report made 39 recommendations for government and transport providers, such as designating ‘quiet routes’ in urban areas, being able to contact train conductors by mobile phone when help is needed, and making access to Disabled Persons Railcards and other concessions easier.

It also suggested introducing more ‘safe places’ where people can talk to trained members of staff, cards asking taxi drivers not to chat, and for mobile phone wayfinding apps to offer more options for public transport routes such as routes without tunnels.

The report has been welcomed by several of the charities involved, who have called it a ‘startling revelation’ of the challenges people with mental health conditions face when navigating the UK’s transport system.

The walking and cycling charity Sustrans said that it revealed that many people are unable to easily get around because the transport system doesn’t meet their needs, even though the health benefits of getting out and about are well known.

Dr Andy Cope, Director of Insight at Sustrans, said: ‘Walking and cycling can be important in helping to address some mental health conditions by supporting health and wellbeing, growing confidence, and helping people to feel connected.

‘Therefore a priority should be given to projects that make it easier for people to travel locally by foot and by cycle, including dedicated cycle paths, quitter routes, and better wayfinding.’

Image credit: Jaggery (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Chris Ogden

Chris Ogden

Digital News Reporter

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