Micro-transit and AVs

Will we have truly inclusive automated vehicles (AVs) or will we need specialised vehicles for some people with specific disabilities? According to a research paper, several companies are creating prototypes of AVs for people with disability. These include both micro-transit and paratransit services.

Under the right circumstances, automated vehicles can offer a decrease in social isolation, access to vital services, and personal independence. But it will take more than access standards – it requires a universal design approach.

A yellow autonomous vehicle on the road. It is box shaped with large windows and small wheels. Micro-transit and AVs.

Minimum accessibility standards should be treated as a subset of inclusive design principles. This is what the AV revolution should aim for. In the long run, ensuring access at the beginning is more cost-effective than later retrofits.

Basically there are seven trip-making stages in three categories when thinking about Accessible Automated Vehicles (AAVs).

  • Pre-trip concierge (Information system Design)
    • Trip planning and booking
  • Wayfinding and naviagions (Accessible Infrastructure Design)
    • Navigating to the AAV pick-up point
    • Waiting at the AAV pick-up point
    • Navigating from the AAV drop-off point to the destination
  • Robotics and Utomating (Vehicle Design)
    • Boarding AAV
    • Riding AAV
    • Alighting AAV

In terms of accessibility, there are three distinct but interconnected areas of concern. The pre-trip concierge relates to the design of information systems that will inform the travellers; wayfinding and navigation relate to accessible infrastructure design; and the boarding, riding, and alighting from AAV without any human attendant relates to the design of the vehicles themselves.

The paper discusses all aspects of the design and operation of autonomous vehicles and access for people with a range of disabilities. It references a wide range of existing research on the topic and mobility, sensory and cognitive disabilities.

The case studies

Nine short case studies include five customised models and four paratransit prototypes. Briefly they are:

  1. Wheelchair accessible AV – for a shuttle service
  2. Customised minivans – oversize vehicles are more flexible
  3. Luxury concept car with tall roof and wide doors
  4. Urban robo-taxi – hail using an app
  5. Single occupancy design – best suited for city travel
  6. Detroit medical campus shuttle – fits 15 people
  7. US Army Catapult – for wounded veterans
  8. Jacksonville Transportation Authority – specified full ADA compliance
  9. ELATE project – purpose-built AAV in two sites

The authors conclude that AAVs offer promise of mobility for people with disability through on-demand options. In Stockholm an automated shuttle bus has been sharing the roads alongside cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. Apps should be compliant with web content accessibility as a minimum. The design simplicity of vehicles must also account for cognitive disabilities. Simple and intuitive layouts and system controls are good for everyone.

The title of the paper is, On-demand Microtransit and Paratransit Service Using Autonomous Vehicles: Gaps and Opportunities in Accessibility Policy.

From the abstract

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology can help disabled Americans achieve their desired level of mobility. However, vehicle manufacturers, policymakers, and state and municipal agencies have to collaborate to achieve support disabled individuals. It requires collaboration for different stages of trip making through information system design, vehicle design, and infrastructure design.

Integrating accessibility at this stage of the AV revolution would finally allow us to develop a transportation system that treats accessibility as a guiding principle, not as an afterthought.

The review of regulations is followed by a review of nine case studies, five corresponding to the on-demand microtransit service model and four corresponding to the paratransit service model. These case studies are essentially different prototypes currently being deployed on a pilot basis.

Recommendations are based on the review of relevant research, ADA regulations, and case studies. Researchers, private firms, policymakers, and agencies involved in AV development and deployment are covered in the recommendations.

The recommendations include better collaboration and adoption of best practices to address the needs of individuals with different disability types. ADA regulations are one of the tools in addition to universal design principles and assistive technologies.

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