Aleksejs Volkovs is almost blind. For five years now, his eyes and support have been the faithful dog-guide Serena.
Aleksejs agreed to become a volunteer in an experiment to find out how easily a blind person was to move in the Central Railway Station, successfully buy a ticket and get on the train in time.
Without the dog and only with the white cane that Aleksejs used before, the relatively short route would take much longer because it would take time to navigate, to find out where the benches, walls, and doors of the station building are.
Aleksejs is looking for the ticket office, but Serena and walks past it, and he turns back until the office can be reached.
The conclusion of the experiment – the move is difficult for Alexejs even with a guide dog and even though he does it relatively often as he takes trains to Jūrmala and Jēkabpils to his parents.
"There was usually a shop or coffee shop before those ticket offices, and Serena often wanted to go in. And so I mixed up myself and told her to go on," Aleksejs said.
There are no landmarks, no Braille, no audible or tactile signs.
“You often have to ask the people around,” says Aleksejs, adding he has been lost and has also missed the train.
Kaspars Biezais, Chairman of the Central Board of the Latvian Blind Society, concludes that many things need to be greatly improved at the Central Railway Station.
“There are no exact indications in which the exact targeted points that are needed are located. Let's say, ticket offices, platforms, the entrance. Also, when you leave the station, there is a big area ahead, where anyone can actually get lost.”
There is currently a construction site in the Central Station area, and builders promise that much progress will be made on this issue in the coming years.
The new project will also be followed up by independent experts who will assess environmental accessibility.
In the meantime, the blind are calling for some improvements now, painting brighter yellow lines at the boarding train, and always announcing in the speakers which train has just arrived.