Counting costs that don’t count

Road workers in hi-vis vests are laying bitumentEver wondered why some economic arguments seem to fall on stony ground even when they’ve been well researched and even asked for? Looks like politicians’ personal experience counts for more when decisions are being made. A Norwegian researcher wanted to find out why road-building priorities diverge from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis. It is likely that many other policy decisions are made in a similar way, not just road investments. Here is an excerpt from the findings about why factors other than cost criteria are used to make decisions:

• Political institutions have created a kind of gift relationship in the road sector, with the state as donor and municipalities as recipients.

• To the extent that the state cannot scrutinize all assumptions and calculations of traffic, costs and benefits, an information asymmetry arises and favours the local receivers.

• In cases of local/national conflict of interest, some key politicians and other stakeholders at the donor side either have their own agendas (such as campaigning), or their loyalty is with the recipient rather than the donor (society).

It seems reasonable that elected representatives are less likely to vote in accordance with the benefit/cost ratios of projects the more sceptical they are to the method of CBA. When sceptical, they are apt to look for alternative decision support, even if several studies have found CBA results to be quite robust.

The intention has not been to argue that the benefit/cost ratio should be decisive when setting priorities among projects on classified roads, but rather to highlight circumstances that tend to push CBA results into the background. The principle of choosing projects with high benefit/cost ratio may be supplemented by so many other assessment criteria that the difference between professional and political judgement is dissolved.”

The title of the article is, Why don’t cost-benefit results count for more? The case of Norwegian road investment priorities. Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research an open access article.

Abstract: The starting point is that the benefit/cost ratio is virtually uncorrelated to the likelihood of a Norwegian classified road project entering the list of investments selected for the National Transport Plan. The purpose of the article is to explain what pushes cost-benefit results into the background in the prioritization process. The reasons for their downgrading point to mechanisms that are at work not only in Norway. Explanatory factors are searched for in incentives for cost-ineffective action among planners, bureaucrats and national politicians, respectively, as well as in features of the planning process and the political system. New data are used to show that the road experts’ list of prioritized projects changes little after submission to the national politicians, suggesting that the Norwegian Public Roads Administration puts little emphasis on its own cost-benefit calculations. Besides, it is shown that the petroleum revenues of the state do not provide a strong reason for neglecting cost-benefit accounts. The overall contribution of the article is to offer a comprehensive explanation why professional and political authorities in Norway set road-building priorities diverging massively from those suggested by cost-benefit analysis.

Autonomous Vehicles are OK

A yellow automated vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? That’s a question a group at Curtin University wanted to know. Using the feedback from a survey of more than 1600 Australians they found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

The authors conclude that the move to autonomous vehicles will provide substantial benefits for society. However, there is a need to make sure the community is receptive to this technological change to ensure timely adoption. Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. Concrete information to reduce fear levels and create trust will be important for this group. The key point in this qualitative study is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research.

Abstract: For the benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to be optimized, the fleet conversion process needs to be efficient and timely. This study explored public attitudes to AVs to inform strategies to increase receptivity to the wide-scale use of AVs. A national online survey was administered to a sample of 1,624 Australians aged 16+ years. The survey featured open-ended questions that scoped respondents’ perceptions of AVs. A grounded, thematic analysis identified two primary dimensions in the data: response valence (how positive or negative the comments were about the advent of AVs) and response type (the extent to which the comments reflected a cognitive or emotional response). This resulted in a dimensional analysis featuring four quadrants that captured the topics that were most frequently raised spontaneously by respondents. The quadrant characterized by comments that were positive/neutral and cognitive in nature was the most substantial, indicating general acceptance. Where concerns were expressed, they typically related to perceived safety, trust, and control issues, and tended to be more emotional in nature. The results highlight the importance of providing the public with concrete information about AVs to address fear levels and to resolve trust and control issues.

You can also read about the first driverless shuttle at Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia. The picture above is from the article.

 

Accessible public transportation: A book

Front cover of the book showing a typical city street in US. There are cars, buses, a train, bicycles and pedestrians.Everyone is happy when a wheeled mobility user can quickly and easily board the bus or train. And the person wheeling on doesn’t get unwanted attention from other passengers. Based on research in the United States comes a book on accessible public transportation. It covers different technologies, policies and programs with inclusive solutions for everyone. The book is based on research from Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access at Buffalo. The research was carried out with a range of stakeholders and is useful for policymakers, planners and advocates. The title of the book is, Accessible public transportation:designing service for riders with disability. The video below shows what went into the research, and list of chapters following gives an overview of the content. The focus is on people with disability, but of course, designing this group becomes good design for everyone.

1 The Importance of Public Transportation
2 The Culture of Accessible Transportation
3 The Scope of Inclusive Transportation 
4 Trip Planning and Rider Information 
5 The Built Environment 
6 Vehicle Design 
7 Demand Responsive Transportation 
8 Paratransit Scheduling and Routing 
9 Location-Based Information 
10 Social Computing and Service Design 
11 Learning from Riders 
12 Vision for the Future 

Every train should have auto ramps

The sliding step at the train doorway allows for easy access.Merseyrail in the north of England has a set of new trains with a low floor at each doorway with an intelligent sliding step. The technology uses a sensor to detect the distance to the platform. Then a reinforced automated step slides out to bridge the gap between the train and the platform. It’s commonly used in Switzerland which means it is well tested. If other countries can order trains with universal easy access, why can’t that be done across Australia?

Passengers are getting on a train in Perth. There is a yellow plate that covers the gap between the platform and carriage.Perth in Australia has a similar convenience to Merseyrail so that no-one has to mind the gap when getting on and off. You can read more about the Merseyrail project on the Intelligent Transport website: Improving Accessibility on Merseyrail with New Trains

The new Sydney Metro has designed a close match between the train doors and the platform. It means that most wheeled devices can make the transition from the train to the platform. But every other train system in Sydney, including Light Rail, still requires a station attendant to put out the ramp for wheelchair users. And this has to be pre-arranged. Parents with prams, people with luggage or people a little unsteady on their feet still need to “mind the gap”.  How about some retrofitting with this technology? That would save staff time and provide dignified independent access for all. Other passengers would be happy too.

The top picture is the Merseyrail train, and the bottom picture was taken in Perth. You can just see the yellow “bridge” between the train and the platform.

Mind the Mind Gap in Transportation

an aerial view of a complex roadway intersection at night where it is lit up with many colours.Among the list of invisible disabilities are mental health conditions, as well as compulsory and phobia conditions. While basic physical access is being addressed, different mental health conditions are rarely considered. Using the underpinning principles of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, researchers from Austria looked at the issues with participants from the target groups. They found that strategies to support self-distraction as well as creating environments that were relaxing helped. The paper concludes,

“In general, measures should concentrate on strategies to support self-distraction and self-manipulation (e.g. personal entertainment, breathing exercises), as well as on infrastructural and organizational improvements (e.g. relaxing environment, improvement of layouts and signage, trained service personnel, raising of public awareness). The target group may get confronted with additional challenges or barriers due to the social and technological developments (e.g. automated driving) in the near future. 

Abstract. Engineers and planners are always jointly responsible for the usability of their interventions. In the transport sector, universal design is a planning imperative to ensure that all user groups participate equally in traffic. Usually, only physical impairments are in the foreground. However, there is an ever-increasing group of people with psychological impairments. Mental health diseases, especially phobias, anxiety, and compulsory disorders, are one of the most prevalent diseases in industrial countries – one-year prevalence rates are estimated at 10 up to 15%. Although rules, regulations, policies and action plans have been established to create an overall inclusive transportation system, the needs of people with mental impairments are mostly not considered. At the same time, participation in traffic is important for people with mental impairments to satisfy their daily needs and to reach therapeutic institutions. In addition, social interaction and the mastery of every-day tasks strengthens self-confidence and supports the healing process. Not least for that reason, the UN SDGs have been formulated. By conducting an exploratory study, the behaviour and needs of people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders and the effects on their participation in traffic were explored. The paper shows general aspects concerning the traffic behaviour of people affected in the course of the disease. Furthermore, different forms of mobility barriers for people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders were identified, distinguishing between infrastructural barriers, social barriers and organisational barriers. As a result, several approaches to support the participation in traffic of people with phobias, anxiety and compulsory disorders, based on coping strategies used by the target group, are mentioned. In addition, the paper identifies potential future challenges in context with mobility trends, concerning the accessibility of the transportation system for affected people, as well as further research needs.

The full title of the paper is, Access to Transport Services and Participation in Traffic for People with Mental Health Diseases – Challenges to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide an overall inclusive Transportation System.

Learning through experience

A scene of the station showing people near the ticket barrier gates. Claremont College students from different disciplines joined the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip to Japan. A short video shows them checking out accessibility at Umeda train station and Ogimachi Park. The trip included time with Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department working on a project. They explored robotic technologies and universal design and created a model high tech recreational space for older people. The students conclude that barrier free places are not just for people with disability – it’s about including everyone. 

Abstract:  Studying Accessibility in Japan shows the research project led by Professor Angelina Chin (history, Pomona) with students who studied universal design and accessibility in Japan during the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip. The group also worked with the Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.

Editor’s note: This is a video only publication – I couldn’t find any written material other than the abstract. The download button takes you to a high definition of the video, not a document. It is a very large file.

Inclusive Light Rail Project

Two older men with winter jackets look happy as they stand by the train.The Bergen Light Rail system is a good example of what can be achieved using a universal design approach. As with most projects this size there are detractors and resisters. But it was accessibility that brought people together to design one of the most successful town planning projects in Norway.  The rail system has brought many aspects of the city together. Not only is the light rail accessible, the whole city is more accessible now and further improvements are planned. People who said they never use public transport, now use it happily. The key is that the inclusiveness of the design is barely noticeable. Step free access, step free carriages, automatic doors, simple displays, and effective sound and light signals are good for everyone. The architect says it is the first public transport system in Norway that utilises inclusive design at all levels. 

“When the planning of the new light rail began in 2006, inclusive design was not stated as a requirement. Many regulations must be considered in a project of this scale. This led to noise and resistance from politicians in the city, which had to be overcome before the project could start. This was followed by discussions about accessibility, the locations of stops near transfer points, transfers to bus and train and step-free transitions. 

A collaboration with FFO (the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People) was established at an early stage and the design team showed them drawings and discussed the ideas with them. This collaboration inspired many new solutions.”

The story is by Design and Architecture Norway and has a short video.  Norway has an overarching plan and policy – Norway Universally Designed 2025 and the update

 

When universal design isn’t enough

An orange tram is arriving at the light rail station.Norway, with its policy and strategies for universal design, has one of the best accessible transport systems. But physical access is not enough to encourage many non-users to catch the bus or train. So is there a limit to the level of accessibility that should be rolled out? There will always be people with disability and without disability who will never use public transport. So the measure of success isn’t getting more patronage from people with disability; it’s about maintaining current patronage and that of new travellers in the future – with and without disability.

Designing a more convenient, easy to use system is good for everyone, now and in the future. A good all round experience can encourage people to leave the car at home. That is, if the transportation takes them to where they want to go efficiently and effectively. 

The title of the paper is, Public transport and people with disabilities – the experiences of non-users.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion: Lastly, our study raises the question of whether universal design or accessibility for all is a good policy objective in public transport. Many of our informants are unable to travel by public transport, even though the system is among the most universally designed available. They would not be able to travel by public transport even if implementation of the measures which constitute universal design today was close to perfect. We write this, not to deny that a good universally designed public transport system is an attractive solution, it will help many, but that there will still be some who will not be reached through the universal design agenda. Therefore, there will still be a need for individual solutions, which could increase the individual’s sense of freedom, participation in working life and value added in society among those who do not have physical and/or mental premises for travelling by public transport.

A related project is the Bergen Light Rail system.

Transport for All

Logo of Public Transport Victoria.The Disability Resources Centre’s report to the Victorian Government about the public transport system shows room for improvement. The key findings were related to the provision of travel information, priority seating, and parking. Negative public attitudes extended to harassment, abuse and even assault. Being treated with disrespect, or assisted inappropriately by transport staff was also an issue. There are 8 recommendations for the Victorian Government to consider. The title of the 49 page report is, Transport for All. It is unlikely that the findings are only applicable to Victoria. Other states might like to take note as well. An affordable and accessible public transport system is essential for all travellers in carrying out day to day life. As respondents noted, what’s good for people with disability is also good for everyone else.

It is useful to note that the Victorian Government provided funding for this report.

The Norwegian Government also has a report on why people with disability are not using their accessible public transport. It’s more than infrastructure – as noted above.

 

Airports and autism

People in warm clothes push their baggage at an airport.Airports and security procedures are stressful for most of us, but for people who are autistic it can be doubly so. Vancouver airport has introduced a simulated rehearsal program to help families with the whole pre-flight process so it becomes more predictable. People who are likely to be overwhelmed by the whole process like to know beforehand what is going to happen and how it all works. This could also include people who are new to air travel, especially now that most processes are automated.

The program includes the Vancouver Airport Resource Kit, which features a step-by-step storybook, interactive checklist, airport map and tips for travel. There is also a video series that helps travellers with autism prepare for the flight. Vancouver airport has an “Autism Access Sticker” that can be placed on boarding passes. The sticker ensures a smooth transition through screening and customs. It also communicates the specific needs of passengers to airport employees. The resource was devised in conjunction with Canucks Autism Network. See the video series below. Very well done – a good model that can be applied to all airports and people with autism.