Innovation in Transport – TfL Access all Areas

Notes from a panel discussion I attended at an event on accessible transport, hosted by TfL. I attended because I wanted to learn about TfL’s strategic approach to innovation and accessibility.

Individual introductions

Mike Brown, Commissioner, TfL

The high-level vision for accessibility on London’s transport: Everyone needs to be able to travel across the capital easily, safely and spontaneously.

Alan Benson, Chair, Transport for All

Transport for All is a charity that works with TfL as a critical friend. Recent accessibility improvements include:

  • new trains, which made many more stations level access
  • ‘please offer me a seat’ badge. (The badge is a little controversial, but Alan’s happy with it as long as it’s optional and people don’t feel labelled.)
  • disability training programme for TfL managers. Disabled people are teaching people who commission and run the services so that they can better understand the impact of the choices they make. No one else in the British transport sector is doing this. Alan thinks this is the most important improvement.

Gareth Powell, MD, Surface Transport, TfL

Transport exists to get people to a place they want to go. But 84% of disabled Londoners say that transport is negatively affecting their ability to get around and live their lives.

We haven’t designed with everyone in mind. Designing for step-free access is one thing, but what about designing for people with autism? Hence the training of managers, and more involvement of people with disabilities in the design process.

Panel session

Chair: Joanna Wotton, Chair, TfL Independent Disability Advisory Group


  • Alan Benson, Chair, Transport for All.
  • Michael Hurwitz, Director of Transport Innovation, TfL. (Says that his job “mostly involves worrying and internal procurement processes.”)
  • Nick Tyler, Director of University College London’s Centre for Transport Studies.
  • Ed Warner, Founder and CEO Motionspot Ltd

What are the biggest challenges facing accessible transport in London, and how might innovation help?

Michael: TfL is more used to working with massive companies than small companies. He’s keen to pave out the route to market for these promising minimum viable products. The commercial and contractual discussion about innovation isn’t trendy, but is super-important.

Nick: We need a better ability to test out new ideas. (His research group’s shiny new lab should help with this.) He wants TfL to be braver in encouraging innovation. Hong Kong and Singapore are more innovative than this country.

Michael: Singapore introduced universal design principles – trying to institutionalise the right types of design considerations. But Hong Kong and Singapore are more top-down, whereas London is much more bottom-up. e.g. there are 34 highways authorities in London. TfL does have the benefit of London’s size – the city is big, so you can test things out in small parts of it.

Alan: Try new things faster. Health and Safety concerns often lead us to hold back from testing things until they’re 100% ready. We could follow the lead of other industries that will launch things that are 80% ready.

Ed: Interesting innovations include the use of colour in wayfinding. e.g. Barajas airport in Spain. Japanese train stations play 7 seconds of melody before announcing a train’s departure platform and it cut accidents by 25%. The music settles everyone down a little bit.

Nick: We should work to make transport more enjoyable. This will make it more accessible. So look at cafes or playgrounds, and see how you might make things better on transport. This changes your way of thinking from “we need to make this system work to the timetable” to focus more on enjoyment (and, implicitly, value to humans).

Michael: Innovation isn’t always about technology. A lot of the most powerful innovations are in behaviour change. e.g. Dementia Friends at TfL. Or more assertive messaging to encourage people in Priority Seats to look up for someone who might need their seat. (They’re trialling this shortly.)

Nick: To get parents to change their behaviour, teach their kids. Parents listen to their children much more than they listen to the government.

How might we have better interfaces between public transport and the rest of the world?

Cities are people and we build the infrastructure around them. If we concentrate on building for people, then everything will get better.