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October 17, 2023 Forming New Opportunities Through Transit Accessibility

Accessible smart mobility solutions prioritize inclusivity, social equity, economic benefits, and regulatory compliance.

By Anna Allwright, customer experience manager, Cubic Transportation Systems

When smart mobility solutions are done correctly and designed from the start with accessibility for the masses, there are many advantages like inclusivity and social equity, greater economic benefits, compliance with laws and regulations.

For example, creating accessible smart mobility solutions can allow local businesses to tap into new market segments or assert a commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity. Or designing for accessibility leads to opportunities that foster technology innovations, delivering economic benefits for the whole community. In general, riders have a better overall experience with public transportation when systems are designed with increased accessibility. The point is, when we look for ways to serve all people regardless of ability, we can stimulate improvements in the overall quality of life for people living in our cities.

Best practices in smart mobility solutions

There are several approaches, or best practices, to follow when designing accessible smart mobility solutions to ensure the needs of all users are met, especially those with disabilities. Some of these practices include embracing universal design principles. Similarly, engaging and collaborating with all stakeholders and including the perspectives of people with disabilities and advocacy groups is one of the most productive ways to serve wide-ranging needs that encompass physical, sensory, cognitive or other impairments. It is crucial to consider a broad spectrum of potential users when designing solutions, so you can ensure that the accessibility and functionality genuinely addresses the challenges people with disabilities may be facing.

Countries, cities and counties can study the accessibility guidelines and standards laid out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for digital platforms or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards as a starting point for this work. These and other regional guidelines were created to provide a consistent and accessible experience for all users. They also verify that ensuing services are compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers, hearing aids and specialized input devices or that information is offered in multiple accessible formats such as large print, audio announcements and sign language interpretation to ensure that people with disabilities can interact with digital systems and use transit system services to their full potential.

Of course, accessibility is meaningless if you do not conduct usability testing with people of different abilities to help identify potential barriers or issues that might not be immediately apparent. This feedback is invaluable in refining and improving smart mobility solutions to ensure they are genuinely accessible and user-friendly, so carve out time to perform tests with riders.

Finally, examine your program and look for opportunities to train transportation staff on accessibility issues and raise their awareness of the diverse needs of riders. Provide staff with the necessary tools and resources to support all passengers and all abilities effectively. Accessibility for all should be a regular consideration with evaluations and updates that ensure smart mobility solutions continue to serve the needs of users and continuously improve as technologies and services evolve. Through a heightened awareness and frequent iteration of services, agencies can significantly improve customer service and overall user experience for all riders.

Accessibility success stories in smart mobility

An exciting piece of the accessibility puzzle is utilizing these practices and watching them grow into successfully implemented accessible smart mobility solutions. In this section, we will look at a few case studies that are carrying out the mission for making transit and transportation accessible to people of all abilities.

One company that serves as an example is Uber, a popular ride-hailing platform. Uber launched UberWAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle) in multiple cities worldwide to provide accessible rides for people using wheelchairs. Reaching a broader customer base that includes people with disabilities and the elderly is also a terrific opportunity for Uber to differentiate itself from competitors that may not prioritize accessibility. This service expanded Uber’s customer base and allowed it to engage a customer segment that it had previously underserved.

Similarly, the London Underground, managed by Transport for London (TfL), has implemented various accessibility features such as step-free access, tactile paving, audio announcements and visual information displays – improvements that have increased customer satisfaction among passengers with disabilities and built a positive brand reputation for TfL as one of the most inclusive and accessible public transit systems in the world. Additionally, the agency decided to simplify fare collection, making it easier for all people, especially those with disabilities, to access public transport without handling physical tickets or cash. Contactless systems streamline the payment process for all, reducing wait times at ticket machines and fare gates.

Designing for accessibility also demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity as it helps to address social inequalities and promote equal access for all members of society. In 2017, Toyota launched an initiative, “Start Your Impossible,” in which Toyota developed the e-Palette, an autonomous electric vehicle designed for various purposes, including accessible transportation for people with disabilities. This innovation highlights Toyota’s commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity. 

In 2001, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) faced a lawsuit for failing to comply with the ADA. In response, MARTA committed to improving accessibility by renovating stations, investing in accessible buses and trains, and providing customer service for riders with disabilities. These efforts helped MARTA to avoid further compliance issues with ADA requirements.

To foster accessibility and pioneer the development of modern technologies, products or services that benefit a broad range of users, you need creative problem-solving and innovative approaches. Waymo, a self-driving technology company, has been working to develop autonomous vehicles for people with disabilities. In partnership with the Foundation for Blind Children, Waymo conducted user research and testing to ensure its vehicles are usable by people with visual impairments, paving the way for more accessible autonomous transportation.

In summary, designing for accessibility in smart mobility has numerous benefits that can lead to improved experiences for all users. Among these benefits are new market opportunities with increased reach for businesses and enhanced social equity and economic well-being for people and communities.

These case studies have demonstrated some specific and positive impacts to leveraging best practices for designing accessible smart mobility solutions. When the goal is to create transportation systems that cater to the diverse needs of users and promote equity and improved quality of life for all, governments, businesses, and cities can work together to design smart mobility solutions built for accessibility, so that services are fundamentally more inclusive and user-friendly for everyone.

anna allwright cubic transportation systems
Anna Allwright

Anna Allwright is a self confessed “transport geek” with nearly a decade of industry experience spanning strategy, marketing, government, and public affairs. Anna is passionate about sustainability and the power of public transport to create greener, healthier, more equitable and less congested cities. she is committed to helping erode perceptions that public transport isn’t for everyone and build a future mobility network that makes public and active transport the modes of choice for more people.


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