Too many technology applications are still excluding vulnerable travellers, ITS (UK) Forum hears

February 28 2020

A group of transport technology experts have agreed that technology is doing many good things to help the most vulnerable in society travel more easily, but is still managing to exclude people by assuming everyone can do what the most able can.

Meeting in London, the ITS (UK) Inclusive Mobility Forum recognised that even using the Internet and therefore transport-related apps and websites, is uncomfortable or impossible for a significant number of people.  This means they end up paying more for their transport or miss out completely on using innovative transport solutions.

The group agreed that transport providers must consider those who may not be comfortable using online solutions, and therefore should consider offering alternatives.  Actively training people to use the new solutions is also necessary and has already proved to be successful in most cases.  For example, in one pilot study in Yorkshire, after a target group had received some informal training with online solutions, many embraced the technology leading to 30 per cent changing travel patterns with 20 per cent even feeling able to make additional trips.

The meeting also heard about many successful solutions such as an app to help disabled people navigate an airport which, in a small pilot study, had a 100 per cent approval rating.  Statistics shared in the group showed that helping disabled people travel was not only the right thing to do but made good business sense, opening operators to a total annual spend in the UK totalling around £250 bn.  Figures suggest 73 per cent of disabled potential customers experience barriers on more than a quarter of websites and that businesses lose about £2bn by ignoring disabled customers.

The meeting was also briefed about a shared taxi service developed by Tandem (a start-up supported by the Connected Places Catapult) which assists people on low incomes in small towns to get to work by turning existing local taxis into shared micro-buses, and an innovation from members AGD which has developed a more tactile cone on pedestrian crossing equipment for blind people to know when it is safe to cross.

“Planners’ assumptions underlie their decisions on travel solutions,” commented Kris Beuret, ITS (UK)’s Inclusive Mobility Forum Chair.  “The industry does great things, but would do so much more if designers always thought first about accessibility and created intuitive, user friendly solutions, building accessibility from the outset.  One thing we all realised today is that there are many different forms of disabilities so it’s very challenging to deliver for everyone.  Hidden disabilities are very hard to design for and I believe private companies need more public sector support for innovative product development.

“I don’t think there is a more important Forum than our Inclusive Mobility one,” added ITS (UK) Secretary General Jennie Martin.  “The Group is championing support for vulnerable travellers.  From physically disabled and the blind to the elderly and financially disadvantaged, we have found technical solutions that exist, and we are committed to helping get them implemented far more widely.”

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