Accessibility and inclusivity: two vital elements of mobility
How many times in the past year have you heard someone say that the future of mobility is shared, electric, autonomous and connected? While this utopian view sounds like something we should strive for, we are missing two critical aspects of mobility, says Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting and Chairperson of the New England Intelligent Transportation Society: accessibility and inclusivity.
It is imperative that mobility – regardless of how it is powered and how it is integrated – is firstly, accessible to all (including passengers with reduced mobility), and secondly, equitable, meaning it is available to all irrespective of a traveller’s demographic.
In the U.S., accessible mobility was considered in the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1990, when the ADA became law, the transportation-related implications were far-reaching and for the most part, the required changes in public transport were unfunded. As I was evaluating public transport agencies’ compliance with the law over the several years after the ADA was implemented, it was obvious that in the future, if we did not think about accessible and equitable mobility, we could face a very similar situation – an unfunded mandate that could significantly burden local and state agencies.
Accessible transport technology
When the ADA became law, there was very limited use of technology – particularly technology that could make transport accessible and inclusive. Furthermore, the ADA did not contain any rules about making transport technology accessible. For example, there were no rules to accommodate passengers with visual impairments if a dynamic message sign (DMS) displaying real-time public transport information was deployed. However, with the advent of this and many more technologies to facilitate mobility, guidance had to be developed to ensure that everyone could access real-time information on a DMS, such as DMS position and viewing angle. To complicate matters, this ‘guidance’, which is provided typically through the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), is not a regulation. Fortunately, transport agencies often use the ADAAG to develop policies, including those for ensuring that technology used to facilitate mobility is accessible. In the aforementioned example, some agencies have a policy that requires DMS to have a push-button which can be used to ‘read’ what is displayed on the DMS for people with visual impairments.
Fast forward to 2018, a time in which technology is everywhere and our focus is on mobility for everyone. While technology definitely facilitates mobility for all, there are specific technologies that directly address the needs of passengers with reduced mobility. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT’s) Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI)1 is leading efforts to develop and implement transformative applications to improve mobility options for all travellers, particularly those with disabilities. After a comprehensive user-needs assessment, the ATTRI selected four technology areas in which to fund application development: wayfinding and navigation; pre-trip concierge and virtualisation; safe intersection crossing; and robotics and automation. “Working together, the four technology areas will provide the basis for an accessible transportation network that is far more economical, expansive and welcoming than we have now, which is of increasing importance not only to travellers with disabilities, but to all travellers in the United States.”
“The accessibility of a transportation system can be described in terms of the ability of individuals to go from home to a destination without breaks, or in terms of a travel chain with various links such as trip planning, travel to station, station and stop use, boarding vehicles, using vehicles, leaving vehicles, using the stop or transferring, and travel to destination after leaving the station or stop. If one link is not accessible, then access to a subsequent link is unattainable and the trip cannot be completed. Thus, the travel chain defines the scope of potential research and development in accessible transportation.”2
Automated vehicle technology
Another perspective of accessible transport is the regulatory aspect of safety and ADA compliance in the context of automated vehicles (AVs) used in public transport. “Passenger access to platforms, assistance with boarding vehicles and docking/securing patrons in wheelchairs are all significant challenges of AV transit. When no driver is onboard a public transit vehicle, how will these things be accomplished? Depending upon the disability, additional technology solutions (auto-energised ramps, auto-securing tie-downs, etc.) may be required to perform these functions without human assistance.”3
As stated in Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0: “Machine vision, artificial intelligence (AI), assistive robots and facial recognition software solving a variety of travel-related issues for persons with disabilities in vehicles, devices and terminals, are included to create virtual caregivers/concierge services and other such applications to guide travellers and assist in decision making.”4
Another aspect of accessible transport technology that is being discussed frequently is in the development of AVs, especially those that will provide first-mile and last-mile services to and from public transport. As I discussed in an earlier article5, accessible AVs are being designed and developed despite the fact that the ADA does not cover AVs. However, considering accessibility factors in AV design must be done early in the design process or the industry runs the risk of having to retrofit vehicles as well as facing protests from disability and elderly groups.
Achieving equitable transport
In terms of equity and inclusion, an effort at USDOT examined the technology and policy implications of transport equity. A framework entitled ‘STEPS to Transportation Equity’ was developed as part of this effort. Spatial, Temporal, Economic, Physiological and Social (STEPS) barriers were identified along with opportunities and challenges in the technology and policy areas6. For example, policy-related opportunities exist in the area of transport payment using smartphones and credit/debit cards. This could be a barrier for disabled, low-income and elderly travellers. The policy-related opportunities in this example are as follows:
- Offering alternative payment modes (e.g. short message service (SMS)/text access) that do not require a smartphone, credit card or a bank account
- Moving public transport payment systems from card-based to account-based systems, which may allow riders to pay using alternate means that the ‘unbanked’ typically use, such as ‘Pay Near Me’.
In the near future, Los Angeles Metro, through their Transit Access Pass (TAP) Program will be providing “new equitable ways to load value for the unbanked and discounts for specific groups such as seniors, students, low-income riders and more. [They will] have options to load cash into their TAP accounts and this enables the cash customers to participate in programmes like bike-share where before you could only participate with a credit or debit card.”7
So how do we ensure accessible and inclusive transport in the future? Technology can facilitate accessible mobility but could actually hinder inclusive/equitable transport. It is policy, when combined with technology that will overcome the barriers. As discovered in the ATTRI, policy considerations will go further than technology alone.8
Technology must be combined with policy
Policy will play a role in evaluating and correcting the perception of a limited market for technology in accessible transport by identifying ways to combine small market niches to make them more attractive and by providing subsidies to reduce the investment risk of serving the unmet demand. However, policy must take into consideration the impact of technological innovations on the disabled community, low income individuals and overall, the transportation disadvantaged.
Development-incentive policies could be used to encourage participation in the transport technology market as well as reduce the eventual costs of such technologies as products become more mainstream rather than specialised. In the U.S., several of these types of policies and programmes are available, mostly at the Federal level.
While this is not a policy per se, providing user subsidies has the potential to provide transportation-disadvantaged individuals with technology that could facilitate their travel. For example, having access to assistive devices could greatly enhance transport for passengers with reduced mobility. Another example is providing low income individuals with smartphones or other technologies that can facilitate transport payments. Policies related to barriers in public rights-of-way should facilitate travel to and from public transport for passengers with disabilities.
Mobility Equity Framework
The ‘Mobility Equity Framework’9, developed by The Greenlining Institute, can be adapted to best ensure that mobility is accessible and equitable. This adapted framework has three steps: firstly, identify the mobility needs of a specific community (e.g., disabled, low-income); secondly, conduct a mobility equity analysis to prioritise transportation technologies that best meet those needs while maximising benefits and minimising burdens; and finally, make decisions that include representation by the specific communities that are striving for accessible and inclusive mobility (these communities are often under-represented in organisations that make transport investment and deployment decisions).
Perhaps the most important aspect of this adapted framework is in the second step. By examining several equity indicators10, the adapted framework answers these key questions:
- Will the transport technology investment or policy meet an important community need?
- Are the benefits significant?
- Are the specific communities (e.g. disabled, low-income) the primary beneficiaries?
- Does the investment avoid substantial burdens?
- ATTRI is a joint USDOT initiative, co-led by the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO), with support from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), and other federal partners.
- Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI), https://www.its.dot.gov/research_areas/attri/index.htm
- Douglas Gettman, Ph.D., J. Sam Lott, Gwen Goodwin, Ph.D. and Tom Harrington, “Working Paper #3: Workforce Deployment – Changes and Provisions of Future Policy and Contracts,” prepared for National Highway Cooperative Research Program (NCHRP) project 20-102 (02): Impacts of Laws and Regulations on CV and AV Technology: Introduction in Transit Operations, March 2017, http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP20-102(02)_WP3_Workforce_Deployment.pdf, page 8
- USDOT, Preparing for the Future of Transportation : Automated Vehicles 3.0, October 2018, https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320656/av-30-web-version.pdf
- Carol Schweiger, “Assessing technology, liability, safety and public acceptance in the autonomous future,” Intelligent Transport, 3 September 2018, https://www.intelligenttransport.com/transport-articles/70997/technology-liability-safety-public-acceptance-autonomous-future/
- Susan Shaheen, Corwin Bell, Adam Cohen and Balaji Yelchuru, Travel Behavior: Shared Mobility and Transportation Equity, prepared for Office of Policy & Governmental Affairs, Federal Highway Administration, August 2017, Report No. PL-18-007, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/otps/shared_use_mobility_equity_final.pdf
- Robin O’Hara, “Integrating Mobility as a Service (MaaS) with our legacy TAP smart card system,” presentation at 2018 ITS California Annual Meeting, Session 13 – Mobility as a Service: What is It? Do We Have the Services? Can it Work in the U.S.? October 3, 2018, Anaheim, CA
- Scott Baker, Viktor Zhong, Jerry Hsu, Patricia Macchi, Shawn Kimmel, Lindsay Gladysz, Mohammed Yousuf, Candace Groudine and Kenneth Wood, ATTRI Institutional and Policy Issues Assessment Summary Report, prepared for the ITS JPO, February 16, 2017, Report No. FHWA-JPO-17-506, https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/34721/dot_34721_DS1.pdf
- Hana Creger, Joel Espino and Alvaro S. Sanchez, Mobility Equity Framework: How to Make Transportation Work for People, March 2018, http://greenlining.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Mobility-Equity-Framework-Final.pdf
- The equity indicators in the adapted framework might include affordability; accessibility; efficiency; reliability; safety; impact on the environment; connectivity to places of employment, education, services, and recreation; fair labor practices; and inclusive local business and economic activity.
Carol Schweiger is the President of Schweiger Consulting and Chairperson of the New England Intelligent Transportation Society. She is internationally recognised in transportation technology consulting, providing over 55 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance. She has authored numerous Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis reports and full TCRP reports. Currently, she serves as co-Chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies, a Charter Member of the Public Transportation Systems and Services (PTSS) Committee of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and member of the International Program Committee of the ITS World Congress and TRB ITS Committee.