The five ‘A’s for digital transport inclusivity

“Steering the development of (new) digital mobility (services) towards achieving sustainability goals and greater social inclusion is key to enabling new opportunities for everyone and widening social uptake”.

by Albert Serra, Nacho Sarrió & Ignacio Magallon

The introduction of digital technologies to mobility (services) has led to many positive outcomes such as real-time information availability, on-demand personalised services and more. However, have new problems risen as well? One of the highest risks with the digital transformation of transport is increasing mobility exclusion derived from an imbalance in digital skills and knowledge among the population1. However, digital mobility services also offer new solutions to challenges currently encountered by vulnerable user groups during their journeys using traditional transport systems. One example is voice assistance technologies, in the form of chatbots, to help visually impaired people move independently. Another example is a route planner app for the elderly population with reduced mobility that only takes into consideration fully accessible vehicles for trip planning.

Inclusion is a critical requirement for European transportation systems2, as everyone should have the freedom and possibility to move around safely and independently. This is of special importance when looking at user groups that are vulnerable to exclusion, such as the elderly, deprived families and citizens with disabilities. Digital mobility could mean new opportunities and possibilities for these citizens. The latest research in digital transport inclusiveness, as performed under different state-of-the-art projects (e.g H2020’s HiReach3 and INCLUSION4.) has concluded that the following five key factors are commonly identified as the necessary inclusivity requirements to be fulfilled by transportation systems.

AVAILABILITY

The availability of transport services is a pre-requisite for transport inclusiveness. While new digital transport services like ride-hailing and ride-sharing can fill existing availability gaps during times and in areas underserved by public transportation, the availability of digital technologies for potential users is necessary to be able to benefit from the new services. Very often these technologies are not readily available for the elderly and low-income population, which excludes them from making use of the new transport offerings. Access to information also plays an important role: from knowing about the new service offerings to having the necessary information needed to make well-informed mobility choices.

ACCESSIBILITY

Mainly related to the level of digital/data-literacy of users and the product-service design of different solutions: while new digital transport services aim at improving accessibility in many ways, new barriers are created for those users who can’t use digital devices for various reasons. Further innovation could solve these new accessibility challenges. For example, voice recognition technologies could help disabled people who are not able to physically interact with digital devices.

AFFORDABILITY

Digital technologies promise more affordable transport for everyone, but only if certain conditions are met. Nowadays, the affordability of digitally-enabled transport options still represents an obstacle for adoption by different user groups, as they remain more expensive than public transport and even the private car. Personalisation can enable special offers to be presented to users in need, increasing inclusiveness for all user groups. The use of governmental support to partly subsidise specific trips on digital mobility services has also been discussed and piloted, like the recent case of Lyft shared rides for late-night workers starting this July in the DC area (US)5.

ADEQUACY

Adequacy stands for comfortable, reliable, safe, tailored, clean, easy to use, etc. Adequacy is thus a very subjective combination of various factors of varying importance to each user. Fortunately, the expanded possibilities of digitalisation now allow each user to choose the most adequate means of transport. For a novel digital transport service to be fully adequate to its users, it needs to deliver according to its target user’s digital skills, knowledge and expected service delivery.

AWARENESS

User awareness of the possibilities and requirements brought by the digitisation of transport services is the fifth key factor for inclusion. Users not aware of current offerings and their characteristics will remain excluded from their use. However, awareness should be seen as bi-directional, meaning transport service providers need also to be aware of their user communities and their needs, especially from vulnerable user groups, to be able to design fully inclusive services. Local authorities should promote the use of new digital transport services by developing and disseminating guidelines and training schemes to their citizens on the necessary digital skills development, data use and data privacy.

The matrix on the left is a Bax & Company creation, summarising, for every one of the 5 inclusivity parameters, how the introduction of digital technologies in the transport sector can provide more inclusive services for 4 specific examples of vulnerable users.

The new wave of innovations in mobility goes hand in hand with the development of digital technologies, merging the physical and digital layers into integrated cyber-physical services. To ensure that new transport systems are inclusive to all users, mainstream design will not be sufficient. Mobility service designers and providers need to incorporate practices from inclusive design disciplines for everyone to be able to benefit from the new transport offerings. Bax & Company believes in the value that service design and citizen science can deliver to enhance the inclusiveness of new digital mobility services throughout the passenger journey experience, supporting this entire multi-stakeholder process from user needs identification to service deployment.

Originally posted at https://baxcompany.com/insights/ on 29 July 2019.

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