SIMON Project – an ICT platform for mobility impaired people
Posted: 3 May 2016 | Eva Muñoz, SIMON Project Manager | No comments yet
People with mild or severe disabilities – either temporary or permanent – represent almost 80 million people in the EU. That equates to one in six citizens facing different attitudinal and environmental barriers that prevent them from fully participating in society and the economy. In particular, access to transport and mobility infrastructure represents a serious problem for many impaired people, acting as a barrier to work and social activities. In this context, SIMON is a demonstration oriented project, funded under the CIP-ICT programme of the European Commission, aiming at improving the independent living and societal participation of mobility impaired people, in particular when using public transport or their own. Project Manager, Eva Muñoz, provides further details…
Based on the deployment and adaptation of digital technologies, SIMON is facilitating the use of public disabled parking spaces and the access to specific city areas with adapted vehicles, as well as supporting mobility impaired people when using public transport by means of navigation services to inform about accessibility infrastructure and services. This will ultimately facilitate and promote the use of the urban transport network, both by public and private vehicles, thus favouring the access of these users to many social activities and an independent way of living (e.g. travelling or visiting friends). The cities of Madrid (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal), Parma (Italy) and Reading (UK) act as SIMON pilot sites.
More specifically, SIMON has focused on two different contexts with regard to mobility impaired people. Firstly, SIMON is targeting the modernisation of the EU parking badge for the disabled – which will not only facilitate the use of private vehicles but also help Public Administrations to fight its fraudulent use. The project’s second focus is the integration with public transport modes, in particular by enabling navigation mobile solutions presenting specific relevant information for older and impaired users.
Targeting public transport issues
The developments to enhance the way older and disabled people get and use the information about public transportation and related infrastructures are essential to ensure the system meets the expected requirements. The SIMON Project addresses specific mobility barriers when using public transport modes related with physical impairments, such as the inability to take long journeys without resting; overcoming uneven floors, steps and slopes; the need for wide spaces to spin or open doors, get on and off a vehicle or that of waiting in a station.
Built mainly upon requirements such us Usability, Integration and Social Impact, SIMON is deploying a specific multimodal navigation solution that will allow people with reduced mobility to easily locate specific accessibility infrastructure via their smart phones and to have access to real-time information about public transport traffic and services, as well as information about parking areas, and that this information is provided by the various city information silos. This benefits not only people with physical impairments, but older people who despite having full autonomy, encounter problems with orientation and understanding or remembering information, by enabling them to plan their trips using multiple public and transport modes, as well as be informed once on the move about any incident affecting their chosen trip.
The SIMON Project combines various information from the pilot cities. Different adaptors have been developed to retrieve and dispense information related to public transport networks in the cities and to give information related specifically to accessibility issues – e.g. the location of lifts and ramps. The data hubs are provided by each of the pilot sites, transport operators and public authorities (for the information about parking spaces) and in particular it is important that the information is provided through the disabled and elderly associations involved at SIMON user group. This group of citizens also act as validators of the project outcome.
The end-user application for citizens is the SIMON mobile app which supports the navigation and management of access rights – both for public and private transport. This app integrates most of the functionalities required to ensure a positive user experience: GPS positioning capabilities including accessibility features to make them usable by different functional profiles; a simple user interface based on ‘design-for-all’ principles also allowing the use of spoken instructions; routing and navigation functionalities presenting barrier notification or incidences in the public transport services; location of specific accessibility landmarks using big data from cities, which ensures reliability, also including reserved parking spaces; and finally, integration among different modes of transport (real multimodality: public transport, private car, walking).
The pilots and the services
A key piece of information for SIMON navigation services and the SIMON mobile app regards the geometry of the outdoor environment (roads, railways, buildings, places of interest, etc.). This is stored in a (read-only) database extracted from OpenStreetMap data that is organised hierarchically to enable fast retrieval of data at different zoom levels. Two additional databases specifically developed for the SIMON system, namely the Transit Information Database and the Parking Information Database, improve the quality of the information provided to the citizen, thus complementing the OpenStreetMap data.
The Spanish city of Madrid has a state-of-the-art on-street parking management system that offers high flexibility to be enhanced, and support the specific features that SIMON proposes in order to manage access-rights for users of the EU Blue Badge.
Furthermore, navigation functionalities are ready to explore maps, including reserved parking places, accessible metro stations and bus stops. The transit information for the city of Madrid has been integrated for the following vehicle types:
- Public buses operated by EMT Madrid (the municipal transport company), including a complex public bus network with thousands of stops and stations
- Metro lines and light-rail lines going through the city, including information about the accessibility of stations and the location of elevators and ramps
- ‘Cercanias’ which is the commuter rail service of the city of Madrid. It contains suburb-to-suburb lines as well as suburb-to-centre lines
- The integration of further buses (in particular the ‘Interurbanos’) is planned to be carried out once the data has been made available by the network operators.
The SIMON system is also able to provide indoor information. In Madrid this will be given in subway stations which are currently under integration, requiring an adequate plans format.
The Portuguese city of Lisbon has been working in recent years to improve its mobility platform as part of their ‘Smart City’ strategy. It encompasses not only a set of new services and applications aimed at making the daily experience of the Lisbon citizen easier, but also includes a number of programmes as ‘Lisboa 100% acessível’ to promote different actions and activities for the disabled. The information about public transport is available thanks to a key agreement among transport operators, which has enabled the integration of data about bus and metro lines. This is an important approach: not all the cities have an open data plan for public transport, which makes it more difficult to add this information to the SIMON platform. The data transformation, when no standardised formats are used, usually implies some additional technical effort in the conversion of formats.
The Italian city of Parma is pioneering the modernisation of EU parking cards for disabled people and the city makes use of number plate recognition technologies to manage the Regulated Access Control areas. Fraud detection capabilities will be enhanced and users will be requested to authenticate themselves through the use of their smartphone. Regarding public transport, a data set has been integrated to support transit routing. The data set contains public buses and railways in the greater region (Emilia-Romagna).
In the town of Reading in England, the Open Data Service is used to provide real-time public transport, roadworks, journey times etc. A new data layer of key footway links to and from parking could be added to the navigation information, which will enhance the user experience by enabling multimodality as a real option.
The services definition is not only answering the specific needs of the pilots included in the project, but also the cities and regions that have similar characteristics, in order to try to protect the social rights of impaired citizens. In general, a great effort has been made to present all the services in all the test sites in an integrated manner, aiming to achieve an overall mobility system with the intention of being the first step implementation process towards a Europe-wide Mobility for Impaired Users framework.
The specific social context and objective of SIMON forces the focus of the project to be on the citizen, and this means that centring SIMON on public services (IT or not) is the right approach. This citizen approach is already ruling the global Smart Cities initiatives all over Europe. The SIMON project is compliant with the EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and contributes to three main areas of actions defined within it: Accessibility, Social Protection and External Action. This enables the results of the project to be transferred to other cities and European regions.
The SIMON Project is coordinated by ETRA Investigación y Desarrollo, S.A. (Spain). Other partners in the consortium include IBV – Institute of Biomechanics of Valencia (Spain), Madrid City Council (Spain), Locoslab GmbH (Germany), Consorcio Regional de Transportes de Madrid (Spain), Infomobility SpA (Italy), EMEL – Empresa Pública Municipal de Mobilidade e Estacionamento de Lisboa (Portugal), Reading Borough Council (UK) and Universidad Politécncia de Madrid (Spain).
The author would like to thank the European Commission and the partners of the EU FP7 project SIMON for their support.
Eva Muñoz is Telecom Engineer from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain). She performed the final project in the former Airtel Movil (now Vodafone) in the Radio Access Department and then she worked in the Technological Centre ITACA involved in several projects in the context of certification and test laboratories. In 2013 she started working in ETRA I+D at the Technology Department, where she is the Project Manager in the SIMON EU project. She is also currently involved in other EU projects such as CO-GISTICS and HIPOW, and she has been involved in the recently finished GAMBAS and SUPERHUB FP7 projects.
Accessibility was a key topic published in Eurotransport Issue 1 2016. Articles featured include developments in Bologna and Cagliari, plus the Vice-President of the European Disability Forum Gunta Anca provides opinion on what the industry needs to achieve to make accessibility the norm, not the exception. Subscribe to Eurotransport for free online now for instant access to our back-issue archive and to ensure you receive future copies: www.eurotransportmagazine.com.