North of England train operator, First TransPennine Express has launched a pioneering initiative across its network, designed to help customers with disabilities and learning difficulties such as Autism and Dyslexia, have a safer and more comfortable journey.
A first for the UK transport industry, FTPE have partnered with the Blue Assist charity, and the Blue Assist card will provide an easy to use system that removes any communication barriers and allows assistance seeking passengers, to ask for help or to tell on-board and station staff what they need to make their journey less stressful.
Originating from Belgium in 2008, the scheme is successfully used on public transport and in shops on the continent. Users can collect blue assistance cards from stations served by FTPE and on board trains and write on their specific needs before presenting the card to FTPE staff. Customers have a variety of individual needs many of which are not visibly present and the card provides the opportunity to get effective assistance from a member of staff should it be needed without making the customer feel inadequate or distressed.
The Association of Train Operators (ATOC), the representing body for rail providers, conducted research that found that only one per cent of those needing assistance actually ask for it. It is estimated that 70 million journeys were made in 2014 by passengers in need of assistance.
All of FTPE’s 1200 staff have been trained and briefed to recognise the card and it is hoped that this network wide rollout will lead to more customers having the confidence and reassurance to ask for help if needed.
Supported by FTPE’s lead union representatives (RMT and ASLEF) and trialled by Mencap, the UK’s voice of learning disability, FTPE is the first train company to roll out the scheme across the UK rail network.
Tracy Holah, Area Operations Manager for Mencap stated;
“It was a pleasure to help as it ultimately improves the quality of life for the most vulnerable in our society. What we take for granted is a massive step for people who need this support and this I can see is a fantastic idea and works.
“Using the cards gave us more confidence to be able to use public transport without support, knowing that in my local station I could ask for help.
“I think once more train staff understand the importance of the cards and the difference it makes to people they may want to help more.
“We had a fantastic day trying out the cards. The journey was not as scary, and holding the cards made you feel that you could ask for help.
“The staff were all very helpful and patient with me. It made the day run smoother and I was not so anxious about travelling.
“The staff at Hull and on the train were very helpful. The appeared to understand the cards straight away and gave special attention to them. Especially the train conductor. He was very polite and respectful. He didn’t make a fuss and treated everyone with respect.”
The Blue Assist charity has noted a sharp rise in the number of UK cases of Alzheimers and Dementia * and is campaigning to roll out the scheme to as many customer facing organisations as possible.
Barbara Dewar from Blue Assist commented on FTPE’s early adoption of the scheme;
“We are delighted that First TransPennine Express is supporting the Blue Assist scheme which seeks to provide that little bit of additional help to those that really need it.
“By being the first operator to take the scheme on board and make their staff more aware of the multitude of special requirements we are confident that FTPE will lead the rail industry in becoming more accessible and journeys less stressful for those with hidden disabilities.
“The Blue Assist card can be used in all walks of life. Being able to use it on trains and at rail stations across the north of England and into Scotland is a significant step forward and one we whole heartedly welcome.”
First TransPennine Express’ Customer Service Director, Kathryn O’Brien said: “We’re extremely pleased to be the first train operator within the UK to be introducing this innovative initiative onto our lines, but more so to be the first to do so within the UK transport sector. As a brand, First TransPennine Express is committed to safeguarding the welfare of all our customers and delivering a service which goes above and beyond to ensure that the customer’s needs are acknowledged and catered for.”
In addition to the paper card scheme, users can also download the Blue Assist App for smart phones and tablets and type their requirements on screen. The App is free and available for both iphone and Android users.
Helen Foster, Alzheimer’s Society Operations Director North, commented,
“We warmly welcome the new initiative because it will really encourage people with dementia to get out and about with confidence and give their carers peace of mind.
“The Alzheimer’s Society feels strongly that with the right support people with dementia can live well with the condition and this scheme means they can travel safe in the knowledge that help is at handed when needed.”
Prof Paul Salveson MBE board member for Passenger Focus welcomed the schemed by saying;
“Its important that train operators fully recognise the needs of passengers with disabilities. Congratulations to First TransPennine Express on this important initiative.”