Headlines boast quick adoption of electric vehicles and advancement of autonomous driving capabilities, but in the race to procure the most advanced mobility technology, are we forgetting about those with mobility challenges?
This article is partner content presented by Autocrypt.
Mobility and connectivity are quickly becoming intertwined, as mobility service providers utilize software and applications to efficiently provide transportation services to drivers and passengers looking to go from Point A to Point B.
But among the advancements in smart city mobility infrastructure, a whole sector of people are at risk of getting left behind when it comes to considerations for accessibility in transportation due to a lack of data about specialized mobility needs.
According to a report from England’s Department of Transport, in 2019 adults with disabilities made “26% fewer trips and travelled 41% fewer miles” than adults without disabilities. This is a trend we see, even in Canada. A recent study found that 73 per cent of Canadians with a disability, difficulty, or a long-term condition have “encountered at least one barrier in their interactions with organizations or businesses governed by federal law,” reads the federal government’s website, in part.
These figures are critical to understanding how to make transportation accessible, but they don’t consider those with other types of specialized mobility needs, including the elderly, expectant parents, or parents with infants and toddlers that face barriers with traditional public transit options.
Breaking down barriers
Barriers are elements that create challenges for certain people. In the case of those with disabilities or challenges, these barriers could be the design of a building’s stairs or the width of a sidewalk. Though barriers are not always physical (think absence of lighting, the lack of text-to-speech assistance, or even societal attitudes), these barriers often affect the accessibility of transportation for those with mobility challenges.
That’s not to say that accessibility in mobility has not been addressed at all – in fact, the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) was adopted in 2019, providing for development of accessibility standards giving the government authority to work with stakeholders to create new accessibility regulations. However, the road to regulations is often a long one, and real-life implementations an even longer journey.
But when it comes to accessibility in mobility, there needs to be solutions put in place – and soon. Toronto-based scaleup, Autocrypt, has a long history providing secure autonomous technology solutions. With previous experience in smart city infrastructure, they understand the importance of ensuring that all people’s experience is equal to truly advance.
Smart technology for everyone
A smart city is not just a city full of connected technology. A truly smart city utilizes the connections between people and technology to gather mobility data about its citizens, and then uses the data to make the city work more efficiently. This iterative, intelligent process is what advances the city, making it “smarter.” By not including or accidentally omitting data from those with disabilities or mobility challenges within the smart city infrastructure, the city could eventually work against them — not for them.
In 2020, Autocrypt began researching and developing ways to make mobility more inclusive, partnering with a Korean non-profit organization to bring an accessible, affordable demand-responsive transport service to life in Busan, Korea’s second largest city.
A demand responsive transit (DRT) service is a form of transport where a fleet management system guides the vehicle on routes according to demand, not fixed routes or times. Rather, passengers utilize a platform to request rides and, using artificial intelligence, optimal routes are mapped out for the driver. Traditional taxis are often in short supply, and therefore operate at higher costs. DRTs are ideal for areas where there are fewer people to transport (making fixed routes inefficient), or for need-based communities like people with disabilities, who are often unable to take fixed route transits. Due to its demand-responsive nature, costs on DRT services can often be minimized.
Autocrypt’s accessible DRT service, 2U Access, launched in 2021 and during the two-month beta testing period, transported over 3,000 passengers on over 12,000 journeys.
“The response was overwhelming – not only was there a high demand, but we saw a large number of repeat users who incorporated usage of the service into their mobility lifestyles,” says Ryuhee Kim, head of service planning at Autocrypt.
Kim noted that while the beta tests were limited to the city of Busan, there has been increasing demand for the service to expand to other provinces on the peninsula: “We’ve already contracted to expand into 30 more regions within South Korea. It shows there is a demand for barrier-free transportation.”
One reason the company was able to scale up the service so quickly was public and government support. “We find that governments want to implement something like this, but they just don’t know where to start,” says Kim.
Other case uses for DRT
Seeing the success of 2U Access, Autocrypt was approached in mid-2020 by a Seoul-area district to implement a free DRT service for a different need-based group: expectant and new parents. The program would provide transportation to and from pre- and post-natal medical appointments with all vehicles fitted with car seat — a rarity in traditional taxis.
During the 12-month testing period, the mobility service provided over 8,000 rides for over 2,700 parents. Due to positive feedback from its users, the service expanded to additional hospitals outside of the original service area and increased the child age limit from 12 to 24 months.
Kim says the type of results they’re seeing is pushing her team to partner with more service providers to bring smart, connected mobility to communities unable to utilize traditional transportation — and not just in Korea. “Demand-responsive transportation would work especially well in areas with low population density like Canada. In these cases, public transportation may not be the most efficient or reliable method of transport for those struggling with mobility challenges.”
“We have to remember mobility isn’t just about convenience. There’s a very real correlation between the lack of transportation and infant mortality rates,” she continued. Expectant parents who do not live in transport-accessible areas may be forced to forgo critical prenatal appointments or early infant check-ups.
As for starting a similar service in Ontario, Kim says, “The need is most certainly there. If we start working with mobility service providers to develop these solutions for expectant parents, young parents, those with disabilities, and so on – we’re looking at better quality of life, and the data that we collect and analyze will allow governments and public institutions to fully understand how to implement more accessible, more inclusive infrastructure in the province for a smart, connected city.”