Consider this compelling reality: over one billion people, or approximately 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Senior adults (individuals aged 60 and older) are estimated to make up about 12.5% of the population and 1 in every 8 people in the world live with a mental health disorder that impacts their day to day lives.
Yet, how often do we see their needs genuinely reflected on our buses, trains, and shared mobility options? A significant portion of our population faces daily mobility challenges that go sadly unnoticed by the majority.
There is a critical conversation we need to have about our transportation systems. It’s not just about making them accessible; it’s about ensuring they are equitable, empowering every individual, regardless of their abilities, to navigate our cities and communities with dignity.
In this blog post we take a look at the principles of inclusive shared mobility design, provide examples of innovative companies who are challenging the status quo and the important role that policy and regulation has to play.
Understanding the Need for Inclusive Shared Transportation
Imagine you are a person with developmental disabilities, each day brings a unique set of challenges, especially when navigating the complexities of urban mobility and shared transportation systems.
For example, take the local bikeshare program. For many, it’s an effortless part of daily life, but for you, the digital interface needed to unlock a bike is a confusing mass of instructions that can take some time for you to figure out. The sensory overload of the bustling streets, the ceaseless honking, and the need to remember routes can cause deep-seated apprehension that makes using bike share a terrifying prospect.
Public transportation, while more accessible, is no less challenging. The noisy environment of the station, the unpredictable movements of the people around you, and the crowded spaces can be overwhelming, turning a simple bus or subway ride into a stressful ordeal. Navigating through the maze of signs and sounds in a subway station, trying to make sense of the announcements and finding the right platform, requires immense focus and can often lead to anxiety.
Routine and familiarity become your anchors. The friendly face of a regular bus driver or a specific seat provides a sense of safety and predictability. Yet, the unpredictability of delays, route changes, or overcrowded vehicles can disrupt these routines, leaving you feeling disoriented and distressed.
Imagine wishing for a transportation system that accommodates your needs? A world where shared mobility considers the diverse experiences and challenges faced by individuals like you.
When we talk about inclusive design, it’s really all about recognizing and valuing the diversity in our communities including those with physical and mental disabilities, the elderly, and others who might face barriers with the traditional design paradigms. If we start to see things from their perspective, how might we improve the design of our shared mobility and transportation systems?
When we tackle inclusive design challenges it can often lead to some pretty fresh and innovative solutions. It pushes us to think out of the box and come up with ideas we might never have thought of otherwise. Inclusive design principles often lead to improvements that benefit all users. For example, curb cuts, originally designed for wheelchair users, are also helpful for parents with strollers and travelers with luggage. Another example is voice-activated technology, developed initially to help individuals with mobility or dexterity challenges, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant have become mainstream. These tools assist users in performing tasks hands-free, from making phone calls to controlling smart home devices, benefiting everyone, including those driving, cooking, or multitasking.
From a business point of view, inclusive design opens up new markets and brings in more customers. It’s smart economics. And on a deeper level, it’s about building a society that’s fair and equal, where everyone has a shot at being part of the community, no matter their abilities.
10 Principles of Inclusive Transportation Design
The principles of inclusive transportation design are crucial for creating a transportation system that is accessible and usable for all people, including those with physical and mental disabilities. Here are the Principles of Universal Design applied to shared transportation:
Accessibility and Flexibility of Use: Transportation systems should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. This should include easy access to transportation facilities, vehicles, and information.
Features like low-floor buses and elevators in subway stations to support those who are in wheelchairs. Audible and visual signals and queues for people with sensory impairments and seating options that allow for privacy or reduced sensory stimulation for individuals with mental health challenges. Transit stations and stops with wide aisles, ramps, and elevators accommodate people that use assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, or service animals, and require additional space to navigate and utilize transportation systems effectively
Simple and Intuitive Use: Simple and intuitive design in transportation is crucial because it ensures that all users, regardless of their age, ability, or familiarity with the system, can navigate and use transportation services effectively and safely. This approach minimizes confusion and enhances the overall user experience.
Mobile apps and kiosks for bike-sharing, car-sharing, or ride-hailing services should have straightforward, intuitive interfaces. This includes large buttons, clear instructions, and a logical flow of actions. Offering instant customer support through chat or call services in the app can help users resolve any issues or queries quickly, making the experience more user-friendly.
Equity and Affordability: We need to consider the diverse needs of different communities, including underserved and marginalized groups, and ensure that transportation policies and practices do not discriminate against any user group.
This can involve considerations like subsidized fares for low-income individuals, ride-sharing services that include options for wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) at no extra cost to help accommodate passengers with mobility impairments. This could also include collaborations between shared mobility providers and organizations serving people with disabilities, leading to tailored transportation services. For example, door-to-door ride services for those unable to use standard public transit.
Safety and Comfort: Safety is a paramount concern in transportation design. This includes not only physical safety from accidents but also protection from harassment and crime. Comfort is also essential, ensuring that transportation is not only safe but also a pleasant experience for all.
This can include ensuring that shared mobility facilities are well-lit and have clear, tactile markings can significantly improve both safety and comfort for users with visual impairments. Incorporating easy-to-use emergency communication systems in vehicles and at stations helps users with disabilities to quickly get assistance if needed, can also provide a sense of security.
Reliability and Efficiency: An inclusive transportation system must be reliable and efficient, minimizing delays and disruptions. This is particularly important for people with disabilities who may have fewer alternative options if their primary mode of transportation is unavailable. Efficiency, on the other hand, pertains to the ease and speed with which users can access and use these services. For people with disabilities, high reliability and efficiency minimize potential stress and physical strain, making travel a more manageable and pleasant experience.
This can include utilizing automated systems, such as sensor-based doors or voice-activated controls in vehicles to streamline the use of shared mobility services for individuals with physical or sensory impairments. Ensuring shared mobility services are well-integrated with the wider public transit network can also improve efficiency, making it easier for users with disabilities to plan and execute multi-modal journeys.
If you’d like to hear from an expert on the human-centered design approach, we recommend following Don Norman Co-Founder of the Nielson Norman Group and watching his Youtube video series, starting with this one:
Innovative and Inclusive Transportation Companies
Alinker and Cycling Without Age are two organizations making significant strides in promoting social inclusion.
Alinker’s walking bikes are a game-changer, much like how strider bikes revolutionize a child’s first experience with cycling. They’re not just mobility aids; they’re empowering tools that enable people to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle and challenge societal perceptions of disability. This approach mirrors the concept of adapting to mobility needs at different life stages, from learning to bike as children to addressing mobility issues later in life.
The Alinker can be described as a non-motorized walking-bike without pedals. With an adjustable saddle and handlebars, it is custom designed to challenge society’s assumptions about disability. BE designed it to be so cool that it overcomes the divide between people with and without disabilities.
Cycling Without Age on the other hand, is a testament to the social power of inclusive transportation. They do more than just transport people; they create invaluable social interactions and community bonds. By offering trishaw rides to the elderly and those with limited mobility, they break down barriers of isolation and foster a sense of belonging.
Another company working in the micromobility sector is TIER Mobility, who are piloting wheelchair-accessible e-scooters in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and Bordeaux, France, in collaboration with Omni, a startup focused on making e-scooters accessible to wheelchair users. This initiative aims to provide greater freedom and autonomy to individuals who currently face accessibility challenges with traditional e-scooter and e-bike designs. TIER Mobility is also working with University College London (UCL) to develop a universal sound for e-scooters to enhance safety, ensuring that all pedestrians, especially those who are blind or partially sighted, can easily identify and navigate around these vehicles in city environments.
If we take a look at carshare, Modo offers ‘accessibility vans’ in Vancouver and Victoria, catering to both families and friends who wish to travel together, including a wheelchair user. These vans are equipped with folding ramps and rear entrances for wheelchair users, complete with tie-down straps. The cost for renting these vans is $4 per hour or $52 per day, which includes gas and insurance. Anyone interested in joining Modo to use our accessibility vans or others in the fleet, can sign up online with the code ACCESS50 for $50 in free driving.
With regards to MaaS services, Australia’s Transport for NSW (TfNSW) open data strategy enabled SkedGo to enhance its MaaS platform with features like wheelchair-friendly routing and passenger notifications about crowded train carriages. Collaborating with the AutismCRC research center, SkedGo also facilitated the development of an app for people on the autistic spectrum to improve their public transport experience.
Now, let’s talk about demand-responsive transit (DRT). DRT is a shared mobility solution that’s especially beneficial for inclusive design, catering specifically to the elderly and those with physical disabilities. Unlike fixed-route transit systems, DRT adapts to the needs of its users. It operates on flexible routes and schedules, providing door-to-door service, which is crucial for those who find it challenging to access traditional public transit stops. This system acknowledges the unique mobility needs of each individual, offering a personalized, responsive service that significantly enhances accessibility. It’s not just about getting from one place to another; it’s about ensuring that everyone has equal access to transportation in a way that respects their individual needs and circumstances.
Companies that are successfully offering DRT services include Durham Region Transit (DRT). A key public transportation operator in the Durham Region, Ontario, Canada, serving areas east of Toronto. It’s a merger of several local transit services: Ajax/Pickering Transit, Whitby Transit, Oshawa Transit, and Clarington Transit. Their specialized services include a public transit service for eligible persons with disabilities who are unable to use conventional transit services for all or part of their ride.
Another successful DRT service operating in Germany, is Bürgerbus. A “citizen’s drive for other citizens” volunteer-based community transportation service that aims to fill public transportation gaps in rural areas. The program uses volunteers to drive mini buses, as well as handling other tasks related to the transport service. The citizen’s bus has existed for almost 40 years in Germany, and has typically been a traditional scheduled, fixed-route bus service, but has included door-to-door Demand Responsive Transport in recent years. The on-demand “citizen bus” can be booked by phone or e-mail which makes it much more inclusive for their elderly user demographic.
The Role of Policy and Regulation
Globally, many important policies support the same values. A great example is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This agreement helps set global standards for treating everyone fairly, including those with disabilities. It focuses on making sure people with disabilities can live independently and take an active part in society. The CRPD is a big step forward in human rights, promoting things like working together internationally, collecting data, spreading awareness, and putting in place national plans to make sure the rights of people with disabilities are really supported.
The Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, created at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, is all about making sure humanitarian efforts include everyone, especially people with disabilities. It focuses on principles like treating everyone equally and making sure everyone has a say. Lots of countries, UN agencies, and groups have supported this Charter, really showing how important it is to involve people with disabilities in all humanitarian work.
North American laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Rehabilitation Act were created to address public transit issues for people with disabilities, however regulation and enforcement of these laws are overlooked and the needs of travelers with disabilities are often ignored. Since 1995, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) has worked tirelessly alongside disability advocates, government agencies, and corporate and nonprofit partners to advance the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The AAPD has been a driving force in pushing the riding hailing industry to become more inclusive.
In general, our goals need to be loftier. We should aim for policies that don’t just scrape by the minimum requirements but make a significant, tangible impact on people’s lives. Imagine a world where every policy decision considers accessibility as a core factor, not an afterthought. This is a rallying cry for all policymakers, urban planners, and designers. We need to shift our mindset and embed accessibility and inclusivity into the very heart of our urban planning and infrastructure design.
Transportation isn’t just about getting from point A to B; it’s a fundamental right that underpins freedom, independence, and the ability to participate fully in society. When nearly 40% of the global population could be excluded from these basic rights due to inadequate transportation design, we’re not just facing a design flaw; we’re witnessing a failure in upholding the values of equality and inclusivity. We need to take lessons from organizations that are successfully designing inclusive transportation services and consider their models when designing our own public or private transportation services.