Digitisation of public transport

There is an expectation that everyone will be self-reliant and keep up with the latest technology. But what happens to people who don’t keep up or can’t? Digital technologies have quickly found their way into pubic transport systems. But the digitisation of public transport can lead to unequal access.

We need to broaden the conversation from accessibility to inclusion. It has to go beyond people with mobility and sensory impairment captured by access standards. The digital divide is too complicated to be addressed by a single solution.

A man leans with his elbows on the desk and his hands on his bowed head. He is sitting in front of a laptop computer.

According to recent research, there are multiple groups of individuals who are likely to be impacted by the digitisation of public transport. If individuals experience difficulty or can’t get support, they may stop using public transport altogether. But it is these groups that often rely on public transport the most. So, what can be done to mitigate this?

A team of researchers in the Netherland set about finding some answers. Their study found more than one answer was needed, and that they needed to complement each other. They uncovered fourteen measures, categorised into five perspectives. Briefly they are:

  • Design – strive for universal design
  • Educational- provide courses
  • Persuasive – raise awareness
  • Social – provide non-digital alternatives
  • Governance – adopt a long term approach
A man stands on a train platform looking at his smartphone. He is wearing a hat and has a bright yellow backpack.

The research paper explains these five perspectives in more detail using the fourteen different measures. Not all measures need to be enacted by all stakeholders in the transport system. Clearly, it depends on what part of the system people are working in. However, universal design is the underpinning perspective.

The title of the article is, Fostering an inclusive public transport system in the digital era: An interdisciplinary approach.

From the conclusion

A focus on an inclusive design from the start showing the added value of digital products and services is needed. In addition, providing courses, specialist products and non-digital alternatives contribute to fostering a more inclusive public transport system. The role of public transport staff ought not to be underestimated by public transport authorities. Workers at the interface between the system and users play a key role in the digital transition.

Last but not least is the governance of digitalisation in the sector to mitigate unequal access. Nevertheless, there is only so much that the transport sector can do. Tackling systemic issues that underlie digital barriers like poverty and low literacy is crucially relevant.

From the abstract

Digitalisation is making its way into public transport (PT) services. Policy approaches to ensure that such services remain inclusive are at best fragmented, at worst non-existent. This study looks existing initiatives and lessons learnt in the transport sector, and takes inspiration from other fields with a more mature understanding of digitalisation.

Twenty-two experts working either in the PT sector or in other sectors such as healthcare and public administration were interviewed. We conclude that there is no one-size-fits-all, but a series of complementary strategies to address digital inequality.

A focus on an inclusive design, specialist products and non-digital alternatives are the basis of a more inclusive PT system in the era of digitisation.

The role of the public transport staff is essential in digital transformations. Acknowledging the issue of unequal access to PT due to digitalisation at a decision-making level is essential.

While the present study was conducted in the Netherlands, the presented measures can be applied in other countries by stakeholders working on inclusive digital transformations in (public) transport services.

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