At Transport for London (TfL), we believe that our network is open for everybody and we're committed to meeting the Mayor's ambition of making London the most inclusive city in the world.
As part of this we recognise that it is not just mobility-impaired people who may face challenges when travelling around London. People with invisible impairments, conditions and illnesses, may also need assistance.
To understand more about how we could help these people, we conducted some research in autumn 2015. This included interviews with people with invisible impairments, group discussions with general customers and our staff. The research found that people find it difficult to get a seat when they need one - particularly if that need isn't obvious and they can find this experience stressful.
The research also suggested that the majority of those questioned perceived priority seating to be the entitlement of people with visible conditions, such as pregnant women and older customers.
In order to reduce stress levels and increase the chance of obtaining a seat, the research found that people who are in need of a seat often use a number of personal strategies, such as travelling at off-peak times and taking a longer route to avoid stressful situations.
As part of the research, participants were asked if they would find a badge or card useful to help them get a seat. 56% said this would help.
Before launching a badge permanently we tested a few options for the colour of the badge and the wording. We felt that blue was the most appropriate colour as it matches the priority seating branding and we felt that, 'Please Offer Me a Seat' simply conveyed the message, without labelling anyone.
We wanted to trial the 'Please Offer Me a Seat' blue badge to see if it would benefit people with invisible impairments, so we recruited 1,200 people to take part in a six-week trial to assess how successful it is for passengers to use and the reactions of others.
During the trial, 72% of journeys were said to be easier as a result of the badge, in 86% of journeys participants reported feeling more confident when asking for a seat and 98% said they would recommend the badge and card to somebody who requires or would benefit from it.
We also found that our other customers became more responsive and respectful during the trial, as the badge made it visible to them and our staff that a person is in need of a seat and potentially further assistance.
Following the success of this trial, the 'Please Offer Me a Seat' badge and an accompanying card will be introduced on a permanent basis in the spring. When the badge launches we will be first European transport provider to officially recognise invisible impairments and conditions.
People will be able to apply for the badge and card in a similar way to how they apply for the Baby on Board badges, without medical checks. Further details about the launch date and how to apply for a badge will be available from www.tfl.gov.uk/accessibility in the coming weeks.
We hope that these new 'Please Offer Me a Seat' badges will make a real difference when they launch, and that Londoners embrace the new badge and offer their seat to someone who may be in need.