SLCs work with Govia to make rail network more accessible

Sight Loss Councils are continuing its work with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to make the region’s rail network more accessible for blind and partially sighted passengers.

Sight Loss Councils (SLC) believe everyone should be able to travel independently and safely. We work alongside transport providers across the country to make this happen using the power of lived experience.

We’re delighted that GTR is expanding the free use of an innovative guiding app to eight more stations across their network. The Aira app enables blind and partially sighted (BPS) customers to place a video call with a trained advisor. The operator looks through the customer’s smartphone camera to guide them around the station on speakerphone.

Paul Goddard and his Guide Dog Stevie, picture on a platform at Chichester Station. Paul is holding his smart phone in his hand, smiling at the camera.

East Sussex SLC member, Paul with guide dog Stevie on a train platform

SLC volunteers and Thomas Pocklington Trust supported GTR when they first launched and trialled Aira in June 2023. Initially, these trials took place at Brighton, East Croydon, Blackfriars, and Stevenage stations.

Following positive feedback, GTR is extending free use of the app to an additional eight Great Northern, Southern, and Thameslink stations.

  • Finsbury Park
  • Brent Cross West
  • Luton Airport Parkway
  • Bedford
  • Sutton
  • Haywards Heath
  • Eastbourne
  • Chichester

Feedback on the expansion

David Smith, Engagement Manager for South East England, said:

“It is essential that everyone can travel independently and safely. Sight Loss Councils are pleased to be working with Govia to expand this app, alongside a wider package of support designed to make transport accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

“As a blind person myself, one of the challenges with stations is they’re often large open spaces. This means that navigating to the ticket office or gateline to find a member of staff can be difficult.

“Having the support from an Aira agent means that I can confidently and independently navigate the station to locate passenger assistance and get to where I need to be. I can even drop by the coffee shop before heading to the platform!”

Paul Goddard, East Sussex SLC member, said:

“At first, I was very apprehensive about using technology, but Aira is so easy to download and use.

“The level of detail is incredible. From telling me whether a door is push or pull, to staying online until the train arrives. It’s like having a friend on your shoulder. It was really, really, good.”

Lauren Eade, Sight Loss Council coordinator, added:

“I had an amazing experience using Aira for the first time today. The agent helped direct me to the ticket office and platform, even avoiding other passengers along the way.

“I can really see how this will help me when navigating stations alone, and urge everyone to try Aira and give their feedback during the trial.”

Lauren, SLC coordinator for South East England, pictured at Chichester station. She is holding her cane in one hand, and smart phone in the other. She is smiling at the camera.

Lauren, pictured using the app at Chichester station

GTR’s Accessibility Lead, Carl Martin, said:

“We want everyone to be able to use our services, regardless of their disability or need for assistance.

“We’re always on the lookout for innovative ways to improve, and extending this app to more stations could make a real difference to blind and partially sighted people.

“All our staff are trained to assist our customers, whatever their needs. We hope this app can improve the support we already offer blind and partially sighted customers to put them in control of their journeys.

“We’re grateful to Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Councils for helping us spread the word to as many people as possible and helping us get feedback on this latest initiative.”

SLCs were joined by members of local sight loss charities at the trials. They said:

“It was my second time using Aira and it felt like I was holding on to somebody I know.  It was a new experience and I didn’t feel too self conscious.

“This is hopefully the start of a journey with a new tool to use, to explore the world a little bit more on my own.” Pierre, Sutton Vision

“I thought it was a very good app to have.  Although I can see a bit, it was still helpful for the agent to talk me through different times and platforms. They pointed out lifts, handrails, vending machines and choices on the café menu.

“It was a very good experience and I would certainly use it in the future.”

Dave, Sutton Vision

We encourage blind and partially sighted passengers to download the Aira Explorer app on their mobile device.

To help GTR understand how useful Aira is, it is asking its blind and partially sighted customers to rate the experience of using the app with a Customer Feedback Survey which can be found on the assisted travel section of Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern’s websites.

Complete the survey

For passengers without smartphones, there are a wide range of other options available to gain assistance to use the railway. Visit the dedicated assistance pages at Southern, Thameslink, and Great Northern’s websites.

Antony Merlyn, Accessibility Engagement Manager at Govia, standing with Lucy Williams, Senior Engagement Manager for South England, Dave Smith, Engagement Manager for South East England, Liam o'Caroll, London SLC coordinator, and volunteers.

Antony Merlyn, Accessibility Engagement Manager at Govia, standing with Lucy Williams, Senior Engagement Manager for South England, Dave Smith, Engagement Manager for South East England, Liam O’Caroll, London SLC coordinator, and our friends at Sutton Vision

Make Transport Accessible

We want to build a world where blind and partially sighted people have full access to the public transport they need. Our work focusses on raising awareness and demanding change at both local and national levels. We do this by working with local authorities, central government and transport operators.

Learn more about our work to #MakeTransportAccessible

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Publication date: 21 March 2024

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