App Review: All aboard for Passenger Assistance!

Those of you who are regular podcast listeners may have heard us mention the new travel app, “Passenger Assistance”, in Issue 18 of the KVIN Tech Chat podcast. For those who missed it, here’s a quick update…

Available for free in both Android and iOS App Store is the new “Passenger Assistance” app launched in late May, and is available for use by any rail passengers across Great Britain. Previously you could book assistance either in person at Rail stations or over the phone via the Rail Assistance helpline. These options are still available, but what this app does is compliment this by offering another way for you to book assistance, hopefully making independent travel even more convenient.

As smart phone apps go, this one is very user-friendly. Once downloaded, all you need to do is create a user account requiring your name, telephone number and email address and then you can select from the relevant categories to personalise the account with your disability needs and requirements. For example, on my account it now lists that I have a visual impairment and that I am accompanied by an assistance dog. However, a quick look through the app and you will see that an immense number of sensory, physical and invisible disabilities have been catered for, ensuring that more people than ever will feel like their specific conditions are recognised and represented.

Once the account is created, you can then use the app itself for two main functions. The first being as a rail journey planner, which will include any relevant train changes en route. The second function, and the most important, is the ability to be able to pre-book assistance for your journey, whether that just be outbound or outbound and return. It literally couldn’t be easier than that. And it gets better. Along the bottom of the main page whilst you are in the app, three main sections are listed. The first is for new journeys which, as I have mentioned, allows you to plan a route. The second section is called “My Journey” and will make searching for those journeys you do on a regular basis much easier. The third section is entitled “My Profile “and allows you to make any relevant changes to the details you have supplied within the app.

Looking at the app from the visual impairment viewpoint, it definitely ticks a lot of boxes. It works flawlessly with VoiceOver and according to colleagues, the same can be said when using Androids talkback screen reader. If you still have enough vision to use the app from a visual perspective, you will be pleased to hear that there are four different colourways built in, so if you do prefer altered colours to aid contrast or reduce screen glare, you will hopefully find a setting to suit you. And finally… what is it like in practice? Of course we are not going to promote an app to you that we wouldn’t try out ourselves…

So heading out on one of my regular journeys, I sent in an assistance request via the app. Okay, so this is where there is a slight flaw. The request arrived but only following my own arrival at the rail station. TransPennine Express apparently check the app for requests at half-hour intervals, whether other operators do the same is unknown, so my advice when using the app would be to give as much notice as possible of your intended journeys.
If you are travelling spontaneously, it may be wiser to go to a manned station and ask for assistance on arrival. Smart phones and apps literally put the world in our hands and make so much information immediately available to us, we also have to bear in mind that some services in the real world can take time. Having said that, the notification of my assistance requirement did arrive just before the train I was due to catch. And whilst on my journey I received a phone call from TransPennine Express themselves, wanting to further update the personal record they have with me. I will definitely endeavour to use the app again and just make sure I allow an hour or so before departure. If any of our members or followers have tried this out, please get in touch and let us know what your experiences have been… Sam, KVIN.