Inclusive transit: It’s not the vehicle, it’s the built environment

An older woman using a walking cane walks over a paved section towards the roadway.What is the potential of autonomous vehicles for people who currently don’t drive? And how do public transit organisations get to understand the issues for this group? Answer: ask the potential users. So a focus group study was set up to find out. The researchers found that regardless of the vehicle type, the built environment was a major barrier to using public transport. So even if autonomous vehicles are well designed, if the built environment isn’t accessible, it won’t help as much as first thought. However, transport experts learned that they need to do more work on their policies and strategies to be more inclusive.

Title of the article is, “A focus group study on the potential of autonomous vehicles as a viable transportation option: Perspectives from people with disabilities and public transit agencies”. Institutional access is via Science Direct, or you can ask for a free copy from the authors on ResearchGate. The study was carried out in Texas, USA.

Abstract: Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is becoming one of the most promising alternatives to improve mobility for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, how people with disabilities perceive AV as transportation services has not been explored. Also, limited information exists about how public transit agencies comprehend and perceive autonomous vehicle transportation (AVT) services. This study discusses mobility issues for people with disabilities and explores the potential of AVT to serve that population, particularly those with visual impairments or physical disabilities. Researchers conducted six focus groups comprising people with disabilities (N = 23) and public transit service experts (N = 10) in Austin, Texas and Houston, Texas. Each session was audio-recorded and analyzed using conventional content analysis. This study identified people with disabilities’ mobility issues related to: (1) current transit services (including fixed-route and paratransit services) and (2) the quality of neighborhood built environments. Both people with disabilities and transit experts expected that AVT could mitigate current mobility issues, especially in improved built environments. However, participants with disabilities also expressed concerns and anxieties regarding AVT. Transit experts agreed that more targeted strategies would be needed to overcome possible barriers to AVT for people with disabilities. This study provides insights on shaping AVT strategies and policies relevant to improving mobility for people with disabilities.