Inclusive mobility and climate change

There are many issues to be considered when creating innovative approaches to accessible transport for people with a disability. An understanding of the needs of all travellers is essential but there is also a need to consider the constraints of providers of transport and the needs of the wider community and local population. During a time where concerns regarding our environment and the impact of climate change are expressed, there is a need to explore transport solutions that also deliver a reduced carbon footprint.

During the TRIPS project workshops, attendees suggested that environments that are well designed as inclusive of those with a disability are often beneficial to everyone. Environments designed to be easy to navigate, making way-finding simple and routes shorter and more direct, helping find a vehicle and whilst in the vehicle reduces the number of minutes that the vehicle is active, for any petrol driven vehicles result in less energy consumed.

Environments that support independent mobility for people with a disability, including mobility aids, wheelchairs and personal powered scooters or chairs are often the easiest for anyone to use. They are easiest to walk or cycle through, have reduced obstacles or steps and are designed with shallow inclines that allow anyone to be mobile without any need for a vehicle in many cases.

Equally, reducing barriers to traditional public transport by improving ease of journey planning, making payment seamless, and improve entry and exit to vehicles reduces the dependency on personal vehicles such as cars. Each journey in a shared vehicle decreases the total made where only one passenger travels.

Mobility as a service

Personal mobility is undergoing a period of change, especially in urban settings. Bus, tram, and train are still widely used, but many such systems are being enhanced with new vehicles that can be rented and shared for journeys, both instead of, or in addition to traditional solutions supporting the first or last mile of a journey, such as to a station or within a location upon arrival.

This is often referred to as “mobility as a service”, (MAAS). Inclusive shared mobility maximises the use of vehicles by increasing numbers of people who use an on-demand shared vehicle, still further reducing dependency on personal transport. Shared transport is cost effective for people with a disability, they only pay whilst using the vehicle, with little capital outlay and no off-road time.

In the TRIPS workshops attendees advocated strongly for providers and planners to adopt an accessibility focus for expansions and upgrades to public transport including both motorised and non-motorised approaches. Such an approach attracts as many users as possible to sustainable options. Designing shared “MAAS” options for use by those with physical disabilities or those unable to obtain a traditional driving licence, both facilitates the independence of those with disabilities and decreases environmental impact, reducing congestion, promoting healthy mobility and decreasing pollution.

If planners and providers are to reduce pollution, health risks and damage to the environment it is likely that they will need to be planning for the renewal of the fleet of vehicles shifting to a greater mix of vehicles contributing to travel with greater energy efficiency and electrification. This mix should carefully consider ensuring availability of accessible forms of public transport, with reduced barriers across the full delivery chain, environments that are conducive to mobility, and also should augment this mix with careful planning of MAAS schemes within cities that include options that can be used by people with a disability.

Innovation offers increased opportunities for the implementation of planning to be effective. In the workshops we explored both how emerging technologies can remove barriers to public transport, through using location-based services with artificial intelligence, making public transport usage easier and less stressful, and we also began to imagine the implementation of inclusive autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles offer benefits to both people with a disability and the communities within which they live. Effective for short journeys, vehicles can readily find charging locations reserved for them, offering door-to-door services without high levels of carbon emission, and promoting the independence of all travellers in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.

The intersection of inclusion and environmental benefit is clear. Future inclusive approaches cannot unwittingly add to carbon emission, whilst any “green” transport system must be inclusive to have greatest impact. The innovations developed and discussed in the TRIPS project suggests that these dual goals are both desirable and feasible.