Zipabout has been awarded funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK to trial a new accessible approach to real-time journey information, designed to reduce anxiety among rail and bus users and boost passenger numbers.

Zipabout’s ‘Now & Next’ system frames rail and bus journey information in a unique way to reduce travel anxiety at the point of maximum stress – journey interchanges. Funded by the DfT’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and supported by transport innovation specialists Pragmatex, Zipabout will now trial ‘Now & Next’ with partners East Midlands Railway.

The ‘Now & Next’ communication philosophy avoids stressful information overload by only delivering simple instructions about what passengers need to do on their journey right now and what to do next. The step-by-step guidance is delivered to passengers via WhatsApp, Messenger or SMS, removing the need for any travel apps, and responds in real time to live conditions such as missed stops, platform changes or delays. ‘Now & Next’ also features a new visual language developed with the NHS and Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) which combines the simple instructions with a minimalist map of the interchange area for rail, bus or tram connections. The simplified maps will be delivered before the passengers’ arrival at an interchange and include personalised routing information for the next step in the journey.

Research from the NHS and disability charities indicates that up to 10 million people in the UK lack the confidence or ability to travel by rail due to anxiety or invisible disabilities such as dementia or Autism Spectrum Disorder. This ‘first of its kind’ project aims to safely open up the public transport experience for millions who fear missing their stop, worry about getting disorientated or struggle to absorb long streams of journey information.

 

Commenting on the funding win, Alex Froom, CEO of Zipabout, said: “Complex journeys involving public transport can be stressful and provoke a high level of anxiety that can act as a subconscious barrier to travel. This anxiety surges every time the passenger is required to change services in unfamiliar rail and bus stations, often under time pressure. ‘Now & Next’ provides game-changing accessible support embedded in the travel experience for every single passenger, no matter your needs or preferences.”

 

The trials will also include the use of a wireless handheld device called ‘Passenger Companion’ which has been developed specifically by Zipabout for accessibility audiences or those without a smartphone. The Passenger Companion device works on a low-power radio network, deployed by Sigfox operator Heliot Group, and requires no mobile signal or data connection to deliver ‘Now & Next’ guidance to passengers.

 

Mike Biddle, Executive Director for Net Zero at Innovate UK, said: “The innovations receiving support through this competition are set to foster a more accessible, inclusive railway system within the UK and to develop demonstrators that offer innovations in customer experience, reliable and maintainable assets, optimised train operations and high-speed rail system installations. ‘’Now & Next’ is a good example of a project that focuses on improving customer experience by enhancing railway accessibility for all passengers through simple packaging and display of live information. It will be exciting to see what is delivered throughout 2024.”