UK-based firm Virtual Tours Experts has collaborated with train operator Greater Anglia on a virtual tour of Stansted Airport station, to provide passengers with the opportunity to experience the station before a visit.
The virtual tour can be particularly useful for disabled customers when checking how accessible their journey is. Greater Anglia’s Accessibility Panel consists of a group of disabled customers who meet regularly with the company to share feedback relating to the project. The members have shared their support for the virtual tour idea throughout.
Stansted Airport station has step-free access, accessible ticket machines, accessible ticket office counters, and a ramp is available for train access. Some new rolling stock also serves the station, and these trains have retractable step access, allowing passengers using wheelchairs and scooters to board without a ramp.
While trained staff are also available to support customers with access needs, the virtual tour further enhances journey planning for passengers arriving at the station.
Exploring the station remotely
A Greater Anglia spokesperson says: “The tour has been designed to support journey planning, give customers a clearer picture of the station before they travel, and reduce anxiety about how they’ll get around from car park to platform to airport.”
The web-based online virtual tour offers passengers autopilot or manual choices when navigating the station. Users can choose a location within the station that they want to view and be automatically guided to it, or they can choose to manually click through the route by themselves.
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There is an interactive map that allows users to view the station layout in its entirety, as well as links to navigate specific areas of the station. The virtual platform aims to increase reassurance relating to accessibility and general safety of passengers at the station.
The tour uses 360-degree photography, aerial photography, and an interactive map to locate customer facilities. The tour covers other public areas of the station including the entrance, toilets, customer service desk or ticket office, platforms, lifts, car parks, and drop off areas.
There is also an aerial view of the car park, cycle parking, bus stop, and taxi rank/drop off, while travel meeting points can be viewed using the drop-down menu.
The Greater Anglia spokesperson says: “This gives you the closest experience to physically being there. Customers can take their time to have a good look around without the pressures of actual travel.
“It gives people a visual guide and a spoken tour through the station. This is empowering for the customer, as it enables them to decide what is and isn’t a barrier for their journey, rather than be told whether something is or isn’t accessible.”
Informed journey planning is key to some passengers, and the tour features a spoken guide with closed captions on the home page and an accessibility widget that enables users to change the layout options, including large font, high-contrast, or audio transcribing.
Mapping out the future
Implementing the virtual tour technology involved many challenges. Greater Anglia searched for a provider able to execute the project, and Virtual Tours Experts made it possible.
The station had to be filmed at a quiet time when there were few passengers travelling. This was essential to ensure clarity, making sure passengers get a detailed idea of locations within the station and the station layout was clear without travellers obscuring the view. In addition, permission for aerial footage of the external areas was required.
Greater Anglia and Virtual Tours Experts also overcame technical constraints in order to make the virtual tour responsive, meaning it’s usable on platforms such as mobile devices as well as computers.
The aim going forward is to create 360-degree virtual tours for ten stations that are projected to have increased passenger numbers in the future and could potentially be more difficult to navigate as a result.
There are also virtual tours available for passengers using Norwich and Cambridge stations. Virtual Tours Experts is also expecting to make tours of Bishops Stortford, Broxbourne, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Shenfield, and Southend Victoria stations available to members of the public.
Greater Anglia also plans to include British Sign Language videos to support customer information in the future.