The psychological stress perspective: a unifying view of accessibility in public transport and beyond

Making public transport accessible to all is important because of its role in social inclusion and environmental sustainability. The UK public transport network is a complex system with a multitude of operators providing services on different scales with different vehicles. A single journey can put a variety of demands on a person wishing to travel and these demands that can exclude people from using public transport take many different forms. A range of physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional factors effect how people with different of abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic status use public transport. This complexity makes the task of assessing access to the system problematic. This paper proposes that all the factors that contribute to people’s non-participation in public transport and other human systems can be regarded as stressors. Psychological stress theory provides a language to explain exclusion and a unifying perspective with which all accessibility barriers can be viewed in the same way. A method called Human System Stressor Analysis (HSSA) has been devised to identify, assess and compare stressors that are found in a system. An example of HSSA being applied to public transport use is provided. This was used to identify an opportunity for a product design solution and led to the design of a journey planning kiosk. An understanding of psychological stress was applied throughout the design process with two new tools used to inform design decisions: the Panic Matrix to generate empathy and STUD Tables (Stressors as a function of Time, Uncertainty and Difficulty) to compare alternative solutions. The AUNT-SUE (Accessibility and User Needs in Transport for Sustainable Urban Environments) project is currently developing a tool that applies the stress perspective to journey accessibility assessment. This tool is intended to model journey stress for a range of individual people in the HADRIAN (Human Anthropometric Data Requirements Investigation and Analysis) database. Finally it is suggested that the psychological stress perspective could be used as a unifying measure throughout ergonomics, the potential benefits and problems with this approach are discussed and opportunities for further research to establish its validity and practicality are identified.