A Friendly Bus Service for the Visually Impaired: Taipei’s Early Deployment of Smart Traffic

Article By : GO SMART

The Taipei City Government has launched an app that utilizes IoT technologies to assist the visually impaired passengers to take bus smoothly.

“Riding the wrong bus” is a common problem for those who are visually impaired. Luckily, the Department of Transportation of Taipei City Government has recently published a user-friendly interface in its “Fun Travel in Taipei” app, which assists the visually impaired passengers to take bus smoothly with Internet of Things (IoT).

By leveraging IoT technology, the app can assist the visually impaired in booking bus rides, informing bus drivers on bus stops with visually impaired passengers, and in the near future, will integrate audible  pedestrian signals to enable the visually impaired to freely travel around the city with just a cell phone in hand. This visually impaired-friendly bus service stood out from the 46 projects from 22 cities in 14 countries around the globe and won the “2021 GO SMART Award.”

According to statistics, Taiwan’s population of visually impaired is 56,000, with a quarter of them residing in New Taipei City and Taipei City. In the past, visually impaired passengers often have no way of knowing the arrival time of their buses. Even if their bus arrives at the bus stop, they often miss their ride because they weren’t able to signal the bus driver in time. Therefore, a common approach is to write down the bus number and the stop name on a piece of paper, then ask those nearby for help. In addition, since bus drivers already have a lot on their hands, they are usually unable to solely attend to visually impaired passengers. Starting today, the Taipei City Government is taking the lead in applying modern technology in improving the quality of life for those who are visually impaired.

Hui-Chun Chung, Section Chief of Information and Technology Division, said this new technology integrates several information services such as precise GPS locations and connected vehicle networks to provide a seamless user experience for the visually impaired. At present, the beta version of this service is available for the Nanjing Metro Bus route and Minquan Metro Bus route.

Users can enable the user interface designed for the visually impaired in the “Fun Travel in Taipei” app to acquire bus information, book bus rides, and send route information to bus drivers. The information will greatly improve the bus drivers’ ability to ensure that the visually impaired are given a positive user experience.

Although this technology seems easy at a glance, it requires integration of many different technologies. Chung pointed out that the visually impaired often need special assistance when it comes to using the app. For instance, they often depend on accessibility features such as dictation to interact with their mobile device, or increased contrast, colors, or text to read the screen, etc. Bus drivers also benefit from the GPS technology because the app can pinpoint the exact location of visually impaired passengers waiting at the bus stops. The satisfaction rate of this service has reached 85% with an average of 300 usage counts per month.

Taipei City Government promotes this service by showing the bus routes via Changeable Message Signs (CMS) at six different bus stops in Taipei City. The same information is also transmitted to the information screens on the participating buses via the in-vehicle information system, allowing both drivers and passengers to remain in sync, thereby optimizing services.

Chung said the team is currently looking into expanding the current trial operations by supporting the Department of Social Welfare of Taipei City Government and Taipei School for the Visually Impaired. After thorough discussions with the organizations, the team plans to add five to six bus routes with stops at MRT stations and schools for the visually impaired by the end of this year. Taipei City Government raised proposals to the central government, suggesting incorporation of the proposed communication protocol into existing regulations for swift and economical adoption.

Chung mentioned that this service can also be applied to disabled and senior citizens. Technology can and should be leveraged to help solve challenges arising from mental and physical difficulties for a more joyful city life. Taipei City Government is planning on integrating audible pedestrian signals into the platform and developing audible pedestrian signals that will describe the surroundings to the virtually impaired, who will then be able to move freely and safely with just a cell phone in hand.

Having friendly public spaces is one of the main indicators of a smart city. Taipei City Government’s success in this project establishes a model for cities to learn from. Compared to other cities, the Taipei City Government’s integrated bus schedule system provides flexibility and comprehensive functions, in addition to an innovative foundation in enhancing transportation services for the visually impaired. As the winner of the “2021 GO SMART Award,” it is evident that Taipei City’s early deployment of smart traffic has made it the leader in smart transportation applications.

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