Research project explores how rail transport can be improved for disabled people

A research project exploring how the UK’s rail network can be improved for disabled people is being run as part of a unique PhD programme at Coventry University.

Funded by the Motability Foundation, the research aims to improve disabled people’s experience of using transport. The research, supported by the university’s Research Centre for Future Transport and Cities, is being undertaken by Stephanie McPherson-Brown.

Stephanie’s research is focusing on the psychology behind why disabled people can feel reluctant to use trains to get around, and what can be done to improve this.

As part of the project Stephanie is interviewing people with a range of disabilities to find out about their experience with rail travel. She is also reviewing the support available and report whether it is good enough and offer recommendations on how this can be improved.

Stephanie’s research project follows the release of statistics from the Department for Transport[1] showing that 31 per cent of disabled people in the UK do not use rail, of which 42 per cent said they were unlikely to use rail in the future.

She said: “There are all sorts of reasons why disabled people might not want to use our railway network – be it stations not providing reasonable access, travellers feeling anxious about having a negative experience during their journey, or even the general reliability of our trains.

“Growing up, I’ve experienced my own share of negative experiences on public transport, such as dealing with stations with poor accessibility or a lack of information around disabled provision at stations when looking online.

“I often forced myself to battle through it and not make a fuss. It was only when I reflected on it that I felt much more could be done to improve things.

“If my research can paint a picture of the problems people are dealing with, identify the key areas to improve and offer solutions that will be a great first step in improving how disabled people get around.”

Further research planned by the first group of PhD students researching transport and accessibility will look into how air travel and personal transport can be improved for disabled people.

Professor Paul Herriotts, who is leading the PhD programme, added: “The goal of the accessible transport PhD programme is to enable disabled people to be at the forefront of researching solutions to the problems they have to deal with every day when travelling.

“We are looking forward to seeing what Stephanie and her fellow students’ research uncovers, and we hope it will be the start of valuable and insightful work that creates lasting changes in society.”

The project coincides with other work into transport design and accessibility being undertaken at the university. Coventry University, alongside collaborators, has been chosen, to develop and run the UK’s first National Centre for Accessible Transport (NCAT) – which is working with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, transport providers and policy makers to both undertake research and develop accessible travel solutions.

About Coventry University

Coventry University is a global, modern university with a mission of creating better futures. We were founded by entrepreneurs and industrialists in 1843 as the Coventry School of Design and we continue to work with businesses to ensure we provide job-ready graduates with the skills and creative thinking to improve their communities.

With a proud tradition of innovative teaching and learning, Coventry University is now one of the largest in the UK and has world-class campus facilities, the UK’s first standalone 5G network and a digital community of learning. Our students are part of a global network that has 50,000 learners studying Coventry University degrees in more than 40 different countries and partnerships with 150 higher education providers worldwide.

Over two centuries, we have flourished in our home city and Coventry University Group now also delivers access to our range of high-quality services and partnerships through bases in London, Scarborough, Belgium, Poland, Egypt, Dubai, Singapore and Africa. From September 2023, we will be teaching students at a new campus in China in a joint institution with Communication University of China.

We have greatly increased our research capacity and capability with a focus on impactful research, delivered for and with partners to address real-world challenges and support the sustainable growth of business and communities. The depth and breadth of our rapidly growing research portfolio was validated by the latest UK research assessment, which saw us jump 22 places in the research power rankings.

We were awarded a Gold rating in the 2023 Teaching Excellence Framework, proving we deliver excellence in what students care most about – teaching, learning and achieving positive outcomes from their studies. In 2022, we were honoured with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category of International Trade, the UK’s most prestigious business award. In recent years, we have won many awards and vastly improved our rankings in the league tables that matter to students – but what matters to us is delivering transformational change for our students, partners and communities around the world as we continue to evolve into a global education group.