Tag Archives: Public Transport

white High speed train leaving a station

Interrailing in Germany – Part 1: Tips for Travellers with Vision Impairments

Since I started working in Ireland, I use most of my holidays to go back to Germany for Christmas, celebrations or simply to have a proper summer. I love catching up with family and friends, but at the same time I also want to travel to new places.

This May my boyfriend and I combined attending a birthday party with sightseeing in Germany. Before this trip I had seen more of Ireland than of Germany. Most people don’t  travel their own country and Germany is a large country, so there were plenty of cities I hadn´t  been to. During this trip we visited Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Augsburg, Leipzig and Gera, my home town in Thuringia. Visiting Germany as a tourist gave me a different perspective on some aspects of German culture.

Map of Germany showing the main cities

 

How Accessible is Germany for someone with a vision impairment?

It really depends on where you go and what you want to do.  German public places and tourist attractions provide reasonable levels of accessibility. It is rarely perfect but manageable. In most cities you will get along with English, although speaking German definitely helps especially when asking for directions or reading information on websites and listening to announcements on public transport.

I googled the museums we wanted to visit to find outif they had audio guides or special tours. If not we joined “normal” tours in English. Some museums said they would provide us with a “special” tour if we paid extra for the guide. That is fair enough if you are a group and can split the cost, but I argued that we we should have the same access to the museum as a sighted visitor and that people with disabilities can’t always be expected to turn up in a group. In every case I got a tour for free or to a reduced price. In return I promised to write reviews about our visits. They will follow later in this series.

 

Using Public Transport

 

You can get everywhere by public transport. Most cities have at least busses and trams, the major ones offer also subways or undergrounds. These well connected transport systems make it easy to get around, but it can be challenging to find the right platform in a station that looks like a gigantic shopping centre.

I still have a German travel pass, which means I and an “assistant” can go for free on regional trains and local public transport. For the fast trains (ICE and EC) I only get the assistant’s ticket for free. I bought our tickets for the longer journeys online through the DB Navigator App (Deutsche Bahn App) a few weeks in advance and never paid more than €30 per journey. However, these reduced tickets are bound to a specific departure time. I think the “assistance” is supposed to be sighted, but we always got away with it.

You can book assistance at the train stations to show you to the plattform and to meet you off the train to bring you to the exit. However, the service has to be booked through the Mobilitätzentrale (Mobility centre) at least 24 hours in advance. If you don´t speak German it would be easiest to send them an email at MSZ@deutschebahn.com with your contact information, travel details, what kind of assistance you need and if you travel with luggage and use a cane or guide dog. Bring the cane even if you don ´t use it, so  the assistance can recognise you. If you have some vision look out for someone with a bright red hat, shaped like a police uniform cap.

If you have an ICE or EC ticket the mobility centre also bookes you a seat reservation free of charge. That also makes it easier for them to find you on the train and you don´t  have to wander around looking for a non-reserved seat.

Overall the assistance works very well, the only disadvantage is that it can´t be used spontaneously. If we were  not bound to a certain departure time and the train was frequent enough, we turned up early and found the plattform ourselves. Ironically, the meeting points for the assistance are sometimes harder to find than a plattform.

Private Busses

There are also several private bus companies like FlixBus. These busses connect the major cities and even have destinations allover Europe. They are cheaper than the trains and the App is easy to use and the tickets are digital so I don‘t have to worry about paperwork I can’t read. There are no free tickets for travel pass owners, but on request  the bus companies often give a free ticket for the „assistance“. Contact customer service and give it a go.

green flixbus coach

My golden rule is: Always ask for reductions for people with disabilities, especially in tourist attraction. Public transport companies are not required to accept foreign travel passes. But you can always try, especially if you have a kane. Train conductors have to sell you a ticket at normal price without charging an extra fee for buying on board, because the ticket machines have touch screens. The larger stations also have a „Reisetenzrum“ travel centre with a ticket counter.

 

Planning is Key

This sounds stereotypical German, but I really believe that I get more out of a holiday, If I take the time to do some research.  Where do I want to go? What is there to see and how do I get there. Without planning I would waist valuable time finding out all this information when I get there.

Booking Hotels

I’m a big fan of apps. I find that booking.com and Tripadvisor for IOS are more accessible and less cluttered than their website versions. The IPhone speech software VoiceOver reads most text fields and buttons on the screen. I save all my travel documents to ICloud files and make them available offline to access them even without internet.

Listen to other people’s reviews on Booking.com. I booked a hotel with a 2 star rating in Frankfurt and regretted it. More about that in a future post on Frankfurt.  Read the property descriptions carefully. How far is it away from the hotel away from the centre, are there restaurants and shops nearby, how good is the transport connection. You can also look at the property in Google Maps, which leads me to the next point.

Google Maps Lists

For this holiday, I created a private Google maps list with places to go in each city we visited. These included not only tourist attractions, but also restaurants, pubs Cafés and parks.  Food-wise I want local cuisine and healthy and cheap options, which mostly turn out to be Chinese or Indian.  Read the reviews, sometimes they even tell you what is near the location. Use the public transport options in Google Maps for directions and select your hotel or a major train station or square as starting point.  Also have a look for a local public transport App in the App Store. Some cities even produce a visually impaired friendly version of their app. Don t hesitate to add more places than you will probably visit to your Google Maps list. You will find that some things are near each other and it is good to have a choice.

Screen shot of Google Maps list Munich
part of my Google Maps list

Overall, I would definitely recommend Germany as a travel destination. All the preparation sounds like a lot of work, but it will ultimately make the holiday more enjoyable and a bit more stress free.

What experiences do you have travelling to Germany? Or are you planning a trip to Germany and have any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments.

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Access to Public Transport Outside Dublin

I moved from Germany to Galway to study at N.U.I.G. I am legally blind, but still have some sight. I’m not an Irish citizen and therefore don’t have the vote, but Ireland is my new home and I have to get on with my everyday life here. So here is my personal hobbyhorse ; public transport outside of Dublin:

I recently moved out of Galway city centre. Initially, I walked in and out to college, which took me half an hour each way. When the weather got really miserable my friends convinced me to try the bus. They checked the timetables and showed me the stops I needed. When I asked them what the stops were called, that’s when the difficulties started. The stops don’t have individual names and sometimes there is more than one stop on the same road.

Prepared with, to my mind, detailed descriptions of where exactly I wanted to get off, I started my adventure. Being used to big cities with buses, trams and trains running every 10 minutes, it took me a while to get used to waiting for a bus that is ten or more minutes late or doesn’t come at all, especially at stops without shelters.

Using the bus for the first few weeks was exasperating and I often went back to walking to preserve my peace of mind. In the beginning some bus drivers forgot to tell me where to get off and I only discovered it too late or ended up at the terminus. I suppose, I can’t really blame them, but sitting there wondering will he remember me or not, is not a pleasant sensation and I don’t want to ask every two minutes: “Is that it?”

Sometimes I recited my little verse about where I wanted to get off and the driver misunderstood me or asked “near this or that place” and I simply didn’t know. In extreme cases the driver didn’t even know the road I was talking about and asked other passengers, some of whom had contradictory opinions, one driver even consulted Google maps while driving. To be honest, that didn’t raise my confidence in the whole venture. My worst experience was when the bus let me off at a busy junction before the designated bus stop and I didn’t know where I was. I know it is convenient for some people to get off between stops, but I think it is dangerous, because drivers and cyclists don’t expect it.

I use the map on my IPhone to follow the route and go to the front when the integrated speech software announces the road .

Not only visually impaired people have problems with the lack of automatic announcements on buses. In summer, for tourists who don’t know where to get off, it is hard to direct them to the right place, because the stops don’t have individual names or numbers. There isn’t even a timetable on some of the stops. In fact anyone who is not familiar with Galway will find using public transport difficult. In my opinion this is something that should be addressed to improve Galway’s chances to become European Capital of Culture 2020.

The government tries to encourage people to avoid driving to work to decrease traffic jams, but they don’t seem to do much to promote using public transport or bikes.

In summary these are the main points I’m advocating for:

  1.  An individual name or number for each bus stop
  2. Automatic announcements and screen displays in all buses

 The cost of implementing measure 1. would be minimal and 2. would bring the service all over Ireland in line with that being provided in Dublin.

These measures are not only beneficial to people with disabilities, many of whom can not drive or cycle, but would also benefit the general public and tourists.