Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 45 (pp.18–21)

Feature: Railway Universal Designs and Architectural Features
Promotion of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Administration Based on Universal Design Concept
Masayuki Shou

In July 2005, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) formulated the General Principles of Universal Design Policy based on the universal design (UD) concept. This concept offers UDs that can be used freely and easily by everyone anywhere to maintain and improve the living environment and transport ‘space’ in terms of both hardware and software so the personality and individuality of all people will be respected, offering enjoyable and free participation in social activities in safety and comfort, regardless of physical condition, age and nationality.
This article describes the main points of the General Principles with the focus on UD in the transportation sector.

Background to General Principles of UD Policy

The arrival of an aged society and the continuing decline in birthrate has seen Japan's population starting to decrease from 2006. To meet these challenges, the Japanese government has been emphasizing various activities, including measures:
To help elderly people to rely on themselves so that they can choose their own way of life
To create a gender-equal society in which both men and women can display their individualities and abilities to the full
To help disabled people display their abilities and achieve self-realization in order to create a society in which they can participate fully

At the same time, ongoing globalization is creating closer relations between Japan and other nations in business, tourism, and other fields. Consequently, Japan is in a period of major change and it is time to create a society in which all people can display their individualities and talents, take part in social activities freely and achieve self-realization.

Past Activities and Present Problems

Until recently, Japanese towns and transport systems operated on the assumption that the main users were all able-bodied people. But as it became clear that Japan would soon be an aged society, there have been more calls for barrier-free buildings, roads, public-transport facilities, etc., that would facilitate the easy participation of elderly and disabled people in all social activities. In response, the government enacted the 1994 Act on Buildings Accessible and Usable by the Elderly and Physically Handicapped (Heartful Building Law). This was followed by the 2000 Law for Promoting Easily Accessible Public Transportation Infrastructure for the Aged and the Disabled (Barrier-free Transportation Law).
In addition, the government has set specific targets in its social infrastructure development projects and transport policies, while pressing on with barrier-free measures in a planned manner.
However, a review of the past activities of the MLIT based on the UD concept described above shows that the Ministry's barrier-free activities are still insufficient for the reasons outlined below:
In principal, most barrier-free measures are intended for the elderly and physically disabled. Mentally disabled persons, foreigners, children, parents accompanying children and many other users are still not considered.
Since different facilities use different barrier-free measures, continuity at the connecting point between facilities is sometimes inadequate, etc., or only part of the space around the passenger facility is barrier-free.
Barrier-free measures emphasize hardware (facilities) but not barrier-free software (information services). Activities to supply barrier-free information are insufficient.
Although more new buildings are barrier-free due to mandatory measures, etc., and many older facilities are being made barrier-free to some extent, barrier-free measures are insufficient as a whole.

Aside from these problems, connections between different transport operators and supply of information still do not have sufficient barrier-free measures. When it comes to providing new public transport services in the future, it is not always possible to implement effective barrier-free measures within the framework of conventional policies.
Additionally, there is still no process whereby barrier-free measures are implemented step-by-step and on a lasting basis from various viewpoints.

Basic Concepts and Specific Measures

In view of the above problems, the MLIT decided to adopt five basic concepts and deploy 10 measures to further develop the previous activities of individual entities.
The basic concepts and specific measures targeted at transport are described below:

Building participatory society from users' standpoint
The most important characteristic of barrier-free measures based on the UD concept is that participating measures are formulated from the users' standpoint—not the supplier's standpoint—and that various measures are implemented by sustainable activities on a step-by-step basis through an evaluation process (spiral-up approach).
Therefore, activities to reflect opinions of users, local inhabitants, NGOs, etc., in each of the stages from planning to implementation are carried out as the first step. As the second step, the results of implementing a measure are evaluated and the results are reflected in the planning and implementation of the next project or measure.

Coordinating barrier-free measures
Pressing ahead with barrier-free measures is one of the most important points in deploying policies based on the UD concept. Therefore, it is necessary to substantiate and reinforce these measures in a well-coordinated way now and in the future.
In this context, barrier-free buildings and public-transport facilities integrated with a contiguous barrier-free area around the facilities, etc., should be promoted. Implementing various barrier-free measures in a well-coordinated way requires establishing a legal system that promotes integration of the Heartful Building Law and the Barrier-free Transportation Law. In addition, to promote integrated, contiguous barrier-free zones through collaboration of the relevant parties, agreements on facility management should be concluded between administrators, and a system should be created for establishing and maintaining a corporation responsible for managing barrier-free facilities.

Offering safe and smooth public-transport facilities for everyone
Public-transport facilities play an important role in creating an environment in which everyone can move freely and safely. On the other hand, public-transport facilities are still not sufficiently ‘seamless’ to allow for smooth and convenient movements, especially at transfers.
Therefore, to allow everyone to use public-transport facilities smoothly, support for cooperation between users, local inhabitants and operators should be expanded to improve convenience. Specifically, efforts should be made to reach a consensus on activities to improve platform guides, transfer routes, etc., at transport nodes and to promote measures to ease transfers between modes and operators. In addition, support for activities to improve methods for supplying information on public transportation should be expanded on a priority basis.

Photo: Examples of barrier-free transport measures—installing elevators
Photo: Operating no-step buses
Table: Present Barrier-free Status and Barrier-free Targets
Table: Proportions of Barrier-free Vehicles, in Public-transport Facilities
Table: Five Basic Concepts and Ten Measures
Figure: Promoting Comprehensive Well-coordinated Barrier-free Measures
Figure: Creating Safe and Smooth Public Transport Systems for Everyone

Further Reading
The General Principles of Universal Design Policy are on the home page of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport at http://www.mlit.go.jp/kisha/kisha05/01/010711_.html

Masayuki Shou
Mr Shou is Manager of Policy Bureau at Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT). He joined former Ministry of Transport in 1984 after graduating in law from Chuo University.