3 steps to fully accessible and barrier-free transit
May 15, 2023
May 15, 2023
The future of universal accessibility in public transit hinges on decisions we make now. We need to prepare for an aging population.
External consultant Tim Woods, general manager of the Autonomous Vehicle Alliance, contributed to this blog.
Today is the best time in human history to live longer.
We’re surrounded by advances in medical science and technology. We also have basically unlimited information on how to improve your health and wellness. And this has led to increasing life expectancies around the world.
Getting old is a gift. A lot of people never get that opportunity.
But aging has its challenges. Physical limitations, medical issues, and disability become more common as we age. Moving around and traveling gets harder.
What does it all mean? We need to overhaul our current transportation system—and transit specifically—to better serve this community. But how?
Accessible transit is about making mobility work for everyone. There are three steps to transit accessibility that cities and agencies need to consider now.
And the combination of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology and accessible and barrier-free (ABF) vehicles can get us there.
This is critical because our aging population is going to grow. There are more than 700 million people in the world over 65 years of age. The UN says that number will double by 2050.
And there are more than 1 billion people in the world living with a disability. More than 60 percent of people with disabilities report major obstacles related to mobility.
That lack of mobility—and the limitation of adapted transportation—impacts them as well as their caregivers.
Cities often say ABF vehicles and infrastructure are a need. Of course, what exactly that means is constantly evolving. Universal and accessible design, emerging mobility trends, and technological improvements all impact transit options.
Stakeholders need to look at the varying and common needs between transit consumers. They also need to view how people of various abilities would interact with and utilize vehicles and infrastructure.
When we talk about barriers, we mean more than physical limitations. Barriers can also include:
Our team contributed to a report by The Autonomous Vehicle Alliance, which included research with various stakeholders. Those included regional transportation authorities, municipalities, and people with different disabilities and movement aids (e.g., wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc.).
This is the time to coordinate the design languages between vehicles and infrastructure.
The biggest issue that ran through all of those conversations was ingress and egress. That could be entering and exiting either the vehicle itself or getting to the location of the vehicle (for example, a subway platform or bus stop).
Many potential users told us they don’t even try to take public transit. Why? Because of the embarrassment and difficulty in accessing the services.
There must be a better way.
We’ve identified three main opportunities to improve transit accessibility from the beginning of a journey right through to the end.
When looking to the future of ABF transportation, personalization of the mobility experience must be the main focus. If there are people with specific needs, the vehicles and transport system must understand who those people are and what they require.
If an AV fleet can be malleable to the different needs of different users, that is the key to true ABF transit.
So, what are those three steps that can get us closer to barrier-free mobility?
This is an exciting time for the ABF movement because people are talking, and stakeholders want to make changes. So, this is the time to coordinate the design languages between vehicles and infrastructure. As more manufacturers design and build autonomous vehicles, they need to be designing for an ABF experience at the outset.
Can we back into ABF? Sure.
But will it be a lot easier when we all work together to make this part of our approach and process? You bet.
A holistic approach is the only solution to help transportation users have a seamless experience from start to finish. And that’s our goal.