Bus tracking app leads way for blind travellers

The new app is designed to give the blind confidence to travel on buses. Getty Images
The new app is designed to give the blind confidence to travel on buses. Getty Images
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A BUS tracking app has been developed to help blind people get around the Capital on public transport.

Professor Stephen Gilmore, who admits having a poor sense of direction himself, has come up with Talking Buses, which verbally navigates people with sight problems.

The phone app, due to be launched before Christmas, accesses information and “speaks it back” so users can find nearby bus stops, listen to arrival times and ensure they do not miss their stop.

It not only tells people where the right bus stop is but connects with Lothian Buses’ own system to track where individual buses are.

The Edinburgh University professor said: “I don’t have a great sense of direction – I can get lost by turning left twice. So when I took a bus journey one day and saw a blind person travelling, I immediately thought it must be tough finding your way around the city when you can’t spot landmarks, see street names or check if you’ve arrived at your stop.

“Around the time, I was teaching students about app technology and the idea of an accessible bus app for anyone with sight problems sprung to mind.”

About 15,000 people are registered blind in Edinburgh with numbers set to soar amid an ageing population and increasing rates of sight-threatening conditions.

Talking Buses minimises extraneous functions so all information is as clear as possible.

Prof Gilmore, who works in the informatics department of the university, said he hoped it would make everyday life easier.

He said: “Blind and partially sighted people, like anyone else, need to go to work, visit friends and do their shopping. But they’re much more dependent on public transport than fully sighted people as they don’t drive.

“That’s why providing accessible information and making people feel confident in travelling alone is not only empowering but vital.”

John Legg, director of blind charity RNIB Scotland, said it was an example of how technology was “changing lives”.

He said: “New technology can transform the lives of people with sight loss, but we must be vigilant that the increasing pace of development doesn’t end up making the ‘digital divide’ wider than ever.”

The app has also won backing from Lothian Buses, which has become the first Scottish-based firm to sign up to RNIB’s accessibility charter.

Ian Craig, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, said: “All of our buses are low-floor easy access and our newest buses all have next stop information announcements on screen and in audio.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com