Ensuring Universal Access and Inclusive Mobility in Tbilisi Metro
Published: 01 June 2022
A project in Georgia shows how cities can take practical steps to improve inclusive mobility and access to transport services.
How can cities in Asia and the Pacific achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11 and ensure that “no one is left behind” in urban development?
One pathway is by planning toward inclusive mobility and investing in universal access in public transport. This entails designing the environment in a way that can be accessed and used by people with diverse abilities, affording them dignity and respect. This concept is generally known as universal design, and its application is beneficial not only for persons with disabilities (PWDs) but also for the elderly, pregnant women, parents with children, people with luggage, and other transport users.
What steps can cities take to enhance universal access and inclusive mobility?
The case of Tbilisi Metro in Georgia
Tbilisi Metro opened in 1966 as one of the earliest metro systems in the former Soviet Union. It now comprises two lines with 23 stations spread over a total of 27.3 kilometers. It serves about 500,000 passengers daily. Accessibility, however, is hampered by several factors, including partly or unmechanized access points, unoptimized passenger flow, commercial encroachment, and absence of safety processes for PWDs.
Since 2021, a team of consultants from the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) has been working with Tbilisi city authorities on a project preparation study under the Georgia: Livable Cities Investment Project for Balanced Development supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The study examines the issues and gaps that hinder accessibility and use of the metro system. It aims to recommend tangible measures and designs that will ensure more inclusive mobility for metro users, improve connectivity with other public transport modes, and upgrade public spaces in identified metro stations, among other interventions.
The team employed the following concrete steps and strategies in Tbilisi, which other cities may consider undertaking to systematically enhance travel experience in their transport systems:
Identify accessibility challenges and opportunities.
The CDIA team first reviewed national regulations addressing accessibility in Georgia, and international conventions that have enshrined the rights of all groups of society to access public transport (see resources).
The review helped determine that improving access and mobility in the Tbilisi Metro entails paying attention to three distinct but complementary considerations: 1) accessibility opportunities to give everybody a chance to enter the stations and exit them in the most autonomous manner; 2) access capacity to address congestion, flow of passengers, and safety issues; and 3) safety improvements to guarantee that accessibility can be maintained in emergency conditions through specific processes, personnel, and equipment.
Analyze accessibility gaps using a customized framework.
CDIA designed a robust analytical framework to gain full understanding of the accessibility issues in the metro system. The analysis was made by crossing two dimensions, as follows:
Metro station perimeters of relevance
In the station: Encompassing all areas from entrance to platforms, including concourse, stairs, escalators or elevators, ticketing and vending facilities, and control lines, etc.
To and from the station: Encompassing areas outside the station that give way to it and interfacing with it.
Between the station and interfacing transports: Encompassing all areas outside the station that connects it to other transport modes that also need to address accessibility.
At metro network level: To provide a comprehensive view of the issues and to scale and rank them accordingly. In addition, the metro network itself needs to be considered within the wider public transport network.
Accessibility topics relevant to urban mobility and the metro
- Physical continuity and absence of physical obstacles are key to an accessible trip, whether outdoor or indoor. Therefore, it is important to consider all level changes, dynamic and space limitations, including steps, thresholds, entrances, transitions, floor surface, turning circles, doors, hatches, crossing flows of people, and others. Specific infrastructure, such as lifts and ramps, or designs like dropped curbs can support physical continuity.
- Services and facilities to enable PWDs to use them autonomously, such as control lines, ticketing desks, information desks, sitting and waiting facilities, bus stops, water closets, and parking spaces.
- Space treatment and management with adequate measures addressing all needs: lighting, heating, air conditioning, acoustics, flow management, tactile surfaces, etc.
- Information to allow a predictable trip in terms of route and duration. This should include access to pre-trip information to prepare and understand accessibility conditions. There should be details on the trip itself and provide adequate support, such as digital information (Mobility as a Service or MaaS), signage, public address, and wayfinding.
- Assistance and guidance from personnel who can supplement or compensate for the lack of permanent accessibility facilities.
- Safety and emergency are a key concern to sustain accessibility in case of emergency. This condition can be a limit to the accessibility of the network.
CDIA intersected the two dimensions in a matrix, examining each accessibility topic at each perimeter of relevance to characterize and analyze all the issues and gaps at every metro station. (See Typical accessibility challenges encountered along a metro trip based on the matrix).
Conduct multi-criteria analysis and stakeholder engagement
With this systematic and comprehensive assessment at hand, CDIA then conducted a multi-criteria analysis to prioritize the stations that need the most urgent interventions. The stations were prioritized according to demand (current and future number of passengers) and supply (accessibility features inside and outside the stations); strategic interest, for stations where other major projects are programmed in the short term, such as bus priority corridors; and technical complexity of the needed interventions.
The analysis was also based on stakeholder consultations with 120 individuals participating in interviews and focus group discussions. PWDs and their assistants, metro users, station attendants, vendors, and inhabitants within the vicinity of the stations were consulted to understand and take their views on metro accessibility.
Develop prospective interventions to address the gaps
CDIA prepared the investment plan for the metro, which considers the time phasing, stations (based on the multi-criteria analysis above), available resources, and political priorities. It proposed a combination of actions not only to ensure holistic intervention for the Tbilisi Metro but also to contribute to wider social and economic benefits. These include:
- Priority investment projects. Targeted measures were proposed for selected stations, such as but not limited to (i) the design and construction of second accesses to improve capacity and (ii) mechanization, focused indoor accessibility, and public space upgrade within the close vicinity of the metro to address critical gaps. The proposed interventions will increase the accessibility level of the Tbilisi Metro beyond 50%.
- Standards and guidelines development. The National Accessibility Standards was enacted in December 2020, thereby providing a national regulatory basis in Georgia. In order to specifically address metro-related issues, detailed guidelines were developed based on each category of the framework and international practices. They were used to prepare the detailed designs of the investment projects. The guidelines will become a standard document of the Tbilisi Transport Company for all future metro upgrade projects.
- Procedures and operation enhancement measures, such as staff training, awareness raising campaigns, accessibility audit and adapted information, are among the actions envisaged to mainstream accessibility in transport processes and governance. These soft measures are often not very costly and have therefore good benefits in ensuring the sustainability of the investment projects.
What are the expected outcomes and lessons from this project?
The case of Tbilisi Metro in Georgia provides a practical example of how cities can take the first steps toward universal access and inclusive mobility. The framework developed for Tbilisi has allowed the complete examination of the accessibility issues and gaps. It provided a strong foundation for the proposed improvement investments for each dimension and per station. Other cities may adapt this framework as basis for the systematic formulation of concrete measures to improve inclusive mobility in their metro facilities and other applicable transport systems.
In addition, the application of universal design principles in the proposed investments will provide better access and equal transport experience for everyone. Mainstreaming universal design in investment projects can be complemented with the development of a reference document (e.g., metro accessibility guidelines) that can strengthen existing regulatory frameworks and standards. It will enable a coherent and systematic consideration of all accessibility issues at station and network levels at present and in the future.
Finally, planning for an inclusive city requires the involvement of transport users and vulnerable groups and ensuring that consultation is broad enough to consider their inputs in the proposed measures. It also helps to prepare for accessibility audits, and lay the foundation for larger awareness raising campaigns on inclusive mobility among city officials, technical departments, and the society at large.
Cities in Asia and the Pacific can effectively reap the full benefits of investing in accessible public transport and taking steps to improve mobility and travel experience, not only to help cities become inclusive but also enhance their overall livability and attractiveness.
- Asian Development Bank. 2022. Inclusive Cities – Urban Area Guidelines. Manila.
- Asian Development Bank. 2021. Fair Shared Green and Recreational Spaces: Guidelines for Gender-Responsive and Inclusive Design – Tbilisi Municipality. Manila.
- Asian Development Bank. 2017. Enabling Inclusive Cities: Tool Kit for Inclusive Urban Development. Manila.
- European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2006. Improving Transport Accessibility for All - Guide to Good Practice.
- European Union. 2019. European Accessibility Act.
- European Union. 2010. European Disability Strategy 2010–2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe.
- United Nations. 2008. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- United Nations Development Programme. 2010. Review of International Best Practice in Accessible Public Transportation for Persons with Disabilities.
- Government of Georgia. 1995. Social Protection of Persons with Disabilities. Tbilisi.
- Government of Georgia. 2015. Organic Law of Georgia Local Self-government Code.
- Government of Georgia. 2016. Decree N 41 on the Approval of the Technical Regulations for the Safety Rules for Buildings.
- Government of Georgia. 2020. Resolution 732 on the Approval of the Technical Regulation "National Standards of Accessibility."
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