This report was written in response to the two challenges faced by the visually impaired commuters when using the existing public bus transport system. Specifically, knowing which buses are arriving at the bus stop and if the buses that they are on have reached their destination.
The objective of this report is to propose to the Land Transport Authority the implementation of solutions which use voice-operated technology into our public bus transport system. Voice-operated technology is recommended because the visually impaired commuters heavily depend on their sense of hearing. Hence, it is the most viable form of technology to assist them.
In this report, two solutions have been developed by Team Lucent, to address the above-mentioned challenges. A comparison between both solutions and evaluation of possible setbacks have also been included.
For the past 13 years, Singapore has implemented several measures at public areas to assist people with disabilities, such as braille in lifts and tactile paving at traffic junctions (Society for Physically Disabled, 2014). Despite efforts made, the visually impaired commuters travelling alone still face difficulties transiting via public buses.
The two main problems faced by the visually impaired are: 1) knowing which buses are arriving at the bus stop and 2) whether the buses that they are on have reached their destination (Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, 2017). Their predicament was reported by Spykerman (2016), who described a visually impaired undergraduate, who recalled incidents when the bus captain forgot to inform her that she had reached her destination, which caused her to make detours.
Statistics on visual impairment in Singapore for gauging the extent of the problem are limited. An estimate derived using the study results of Wong et al. (2012) and the data from the Census of Population 2010 (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2011) show that about 175,000 adults who are above 40 years old are visually impaired. The number is likely to increase since "more people are at risk of age-related visual impairments as our population ages" (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, 2017). This is a substantial number.
The expected rise in the visually impaired warrants attention to ensure they are able to board the right public bus and alight at their desired stop all the time when travelling by themselves. It is timely to look into this issue as the Ministry of Transport has planned to make the public transportation system more inclusive (Ministry of Communications and Information, 2017).
3 Purpose Statement
This report proposes to the Land Transport Authority the adoption of “Bus Buddy” mobile application to enhance the commuting experiences of the visually impaired and encourage inclusivity in the design of public transportation system.
4 Proposed Solutions
Two ideas are proposed to improve the commuting experience of the visually impaired when travelling alone: 1) "Bus Buddy" mobile application and 2) the Lucent Bus Stop (LBS). Their features and functions are described below.
4.1 "Bus Buddy" Mobile Application
There are a few local application-based initiatives that help the visually impaired to travel using public bus, namely, Travel Assistant for the Visually Impaired and the Elderly (TrAVEl) (Neo, 2015), ICT-Travel (Salim, 2016) and Travel Assistant for the Visually Impaired (TAVI) (Tote Board, 2017) (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Two local application-based initiatives
(Retrieved from The Straits Times and The SMU Blog)
Publications on these initiatives did not include how the visually impaired would be assisted when there are multiple buses arriving at the bus stop and when they are alone (Figure 2). These initiatives are unlikely to address this aspect since their aim is to enable the visually impaired to travel independently. The proposed "Bus Buddy" solution aims to bridge this gap, thereby enabling the visually impaired to board the right bus and alight at their desired stop every time.
Figure 2. Challenges with existing initiatives
(Retrieved from The Straits Times)
The "Bus Buddy" mobile application consists of two components:
a. "Bus Buddy” is a voice-operated bus service advisory mobile application that interacts with the visually-impaired user and processes his/her requests. It tracks and correlates the user's location against a map complete with information on bus stops and landmarks. It also taps into the Bus Information System (BIS) for real-time bus status.
b. A transceiver-cum-display unit on each bus that transmits bus information (e.g. location) and receives alerts notifying the bus captain of visually impaired commuters at the next bus stop.
A simplified conceptual user - “Bus Buddy” interaction process is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Simplified conceptual user - “Bus Buddy” interaction process
4.2 Lucent Bus Stop
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has piloted a smart bus stop initiative where commuters can enjoy free Wi-Fi or even download an e-Book while waiting for their bus to arrive (Saiidi, 2017). While these initiatives are mainly for the general public, this initiative can be further expanded to include additional features to aid the visually impaired in their commuting experience.
The Lucent Bus Stop (LBS) is a revised version of the smart bus stop initiative. The LBS includes an interactive panel located in the bus shelter (see Appendix A) and a Light Emitting Diode (LED) display screen installed at the bus stop pole (see Appendix B). The interactive panel consists of a touch screen Liquid Crystal Device (LCD) display, an audio speaker and a real-time bus location system via Global Positioning System (GPS). The lower part of the interactive panel is a list of bus services available at the specific bus stop in braille.
Visually impaired using the interactive panel would begin by pressing the ‘push-to-talk’ button. The interactive panel will prompt the user to input their destination vocally (Figure 4). Upon receiving the user’s input, the interactive panel will respond with the bus service that the user should take to get to his/her destination.
Figure 4. User will press button and speak into the system the destination
When the panel prompts for a confirmation, the user would tap his/her SG enabled concession card on the card reader to confirm his/her selected choice (Figure 5).
Figure 5. User confirm his choice by tapping his concession card on card reader
Upon confirmation, the audio speaker will announce the selected bus service and the time taken to arrive at the bus stop. Concurrently, the LED display will indicate the flagged down bus number, together with a visually handicapped symbol (Figure 6), informing the bus captain that a visually impaired would be boarding the bus. This allows the bus captain to render necessary assistance.
Figure 6. Bus flag down process
When the flagged down bus arrives at the bus stop, the audio speaker will announce the bus number, notifying the visually impaired to board the bus (Figure 7). Once the bus left the bus bay, the system will be updated.
Figure 7. Interactive panel informs the visually impaired to board the bus
Touchscreen technology is growing rapidly and widely accepted as part of everyone lives. Solutions to the problem has been thought through thoroughly by the team and are feasible. There may still be some minor challenges to our solutions, however, with careful planning, these challenges can be mitigated.
5.1 Return on Investment
There could be a concern to whether the number of visually impaired commuters warrant the investment. This concern has been mitigated under the proposed progressive implementation approach starting with routes and bus services that have more visually impaired commuters. The mobile application could be extended to include other users such as tourists and those who are unfamiliar with the bus services and routes to achieve greater usability.
5.2 User Acceptance
5.2.1 “Bus Buddy” Mobile Application
Users of "Bus Buddy" are required to own a smart phone with an up-to-date operating system to ensure that the application works smoothly. More importantly, they have to bear the data usage cost. These cost-related concerns can be resolved by expanding the scope of the current "public transport concession scheme for persons with disabilities" to include subsidy for such expenses (Ministry of Social and Family Development, n. d.).
5.2.2 Lucent Bus Stop
Since the interactive panel is available for all to use, visually impaired commuters may need to wait for their turn to use it. This issue can be managed through the phased implementation to gauge the usage demand and cost-effective alternatives could be considered if needed.
5.3 Longer Travel Time
There may be concerns with the additional time required in travelling due to the requirement of the bus captain to aid the visually impaired on boarding and alighting of the bus. This issue is similar to wheelchair commuters. This issue, however, is generally accepted as a social norm by majority and mitigated by the benefits that the visually impaired commuters would gain.
The team used both primary and secondary research methods for our study. The team searched the internet for relevant information and asked SAVH specific questions related to this study.
6.1 Secondary Research
Online research on the visually impaired was conducted to learn about their challenges (Collins, 2013, and Spykerman, 2016), the extent of the problem (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2011, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, 2017, and Wong et al., 2012), the local and foreign initiatives launched to help them (Bennett, 2014, Metro, 2016, Neo, 2015, Salic, 2017, Superala, 2014, and Tote Board, 2017) and their familiarity with the technologies used - mobile and touchscreen technologies (Parderio, 2017 and Roa, 2014). This study allows the problem statement and the strategies of possible solutions for this assignment to be determined.
6.2 Primary Research
The team approached SAVH to gain deeper insights into the challenges faced by visually impaired commuters and their views on the strategies of our intended solutions through a questionnaire administered via email (see Appendix C). The team brainstormed the responses provided (see Appendix D) and the probable scenarios which refined the problem statement and enhanced the two solutions.
Visually impaired commuters who are travelling by themselves are still facing difficulties with boarding the right bus and alighting at the right stop despite efforts to integrate people with disabilities into the society. This problem will become more pressing given the anticipated increase in visually impaired persons. The proposed solutions, "Bus Buddy" mobile application and LBS, aim to solve this problem, thereby enhancing their commuting experience. It is timely to implement this improvement given the commitment of the Ministry of Transport to make the public transportation system a much better experience for all which would also contribute to making Singapore a more inclusive society.
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