New features on the Transport for Edinburgh mobile app will help blind and visually impaired bus and tram passengers navigate more independently around the Scottish capital.
In what could be the UK’s first travel app for visually impaired people, the new features have been developed in partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Royal Blind School.
The free app (available on Apple and Android Smartphones) will now include VoiceOver technology to allow blind and visually impaired customers to benefit from next stop announcements and walking directions to a bus or tram stop spoken to them.
Once the app is installed a customer can point their phone at a tram or bus stop and it will announce the name of the stop and where services go from there. It also uses GPS to produce real-time departure information and announce the next stop even if the phone is locked and in the passenger's pocket.
Cllr Lesley Hinds, transport convener and chair of Transport for Edinburgh, said: ‘We are committed to providing accessible travel for everyone in Edinburgh, and this app will further enable passengers to make the most of the services on offer.
‘This is one of many innovations by Transport for Edinburgh to create a modern, integrated network for the city, allowing us to provide one of the most accessible public transport services in Scotland.’
Professor Stephen Gilmore of the QUANTICOL project at the University of Edinburgh, who helped come up with the app, said: ‘Unfortunately, the technology needed to make a mobile phone app accessible to a blind person is too little known generally. In fact, most people would be puzzled as to how a blind person could use a smartphone at all.
'The answer is the phone can synthesise a human voice so that a blind user can hear information being read to them as opposed to seeing it with their eyes in the same way in that a sighted person can.
'In addition to that they have included an absolutely unique feature called “Stop Radar” which allows a blind user of the app to use the built-in compass of the phone to identify which bus stops are around them in various directions.
‘Transport for Edinburgh have advanced the concept of accessibility to an unbelievable extent. I hope that other transport companies all around the UK — and indeed in every country in the world — will follow their lead and use the new Transport for Edinburgh app as an inspiring example of how to make visually-impaired passengers' experience on public transport better, easier, and safer.’
Around 15,000 people are registered blind in Edinburgh.