TRANSPORT FOR ALL
What is inclusive MaaS and why it is so important? Sandra Witzel explains that, simply, Mobility as a Service cannot be exclusive in any way, shape or form
In January 2020 the UK’s Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, expressed his anger to the Rail Delivery Group that some 1,200 rail carriages, around 9% of the fleet, are still not accessible for disabled passengers, failing to meet new standards laid down by the government some 15 years ago.
Last year British disability charity Scope also released its own report into the accessibility of public transport, reporting that 40% of disabled people face difficulties using rail stations. More than one billion people worldwide live with a disability, and on top of this we are facing an ageing population with growing mobility needs. More must be done to ensure that public transport caters for all passengers, providing a system they feel comfortable and confident using.
The ‘roaring 2020s’ promise to deliver some of the biggest changes seen in transport for decades. Autonomous vehicles, flying taxis and eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) are set to alter the way we travel forever. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will bring these innovative transport modes together with more conventional buses, trams and trains. According to the MaaS Alliance, MaaS is ‘the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand.’ It adds, ‘MaaS should be the best value proposition [for users], by helping them meet their mobility needs and solve the inconvenient parts of individual journeys.’ A successful MaaS offer also creates new business models and the opportunity to tackle unmet demand. MaaS presents a unique opportunity to create an inclusive transport system. Accessibility features and information can be implemented from the very start to ensure the industry truly caters for all transport users, not only the healthy and wealthy. But, without an open and collaborative approach, MaaS may not realise its true potential.
Today, getting from A to B is not easy for disabled passengers. Trains, buses, taxis and micromobility modes promise universal accessibility, but often fall short. Those with mobility needs face long wait times for assistance, station lifts that are often out of order, and a lack of ramps for trains, buses and taxis to assist with boarding. Companies often only act after they receive bad press, with the ride hailing service Uber setting up uberASSIST and uberACCESS after calls from disability activists and campaign groups. Class action lawsuits were filed against Lyft in the United States over its own lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles and training for drivers. Often, the lack of accessibility features in a new transport mode or service is because the individuals behind its design are typically young, able-bodied entrepreneurs, who may not automatically think about how their new product or service will affect those with a physical impairment. In 2018, E-scooter companies Bird, LimeBike and Spin were temporarily banned in San Francisco because of the unregulated risk they posed to wheelchair users and pedestrians on pavements. Only after lengthy negotiation and regulation by the city government were certain companies allowed to operate again. To achieve an inclusive society, we must break down as many barriers as possible and make it easier for individuals to go about their daily life regardless of whether they have a physical or other limitation, something which the majority takes for granted.
“To achieve an inclusive society, we must break down as many barriers as possible and make it easier for individuals to go about their daily life regardless of whether they have a physical or other limitation, something which the majority takes for granted”
SkedGo was established in 2009 to equip companies with the capabilities to deliver multimodal and mixed model trip planning, offering a MaaS platform to their users. We've built up a client base ranging from government departments to transit agencies and corporates, with our technology used in 500 cities worldwide. We are a B2B tech enabler, helping clients aggregate all their local transport service providers into one platform providing a personalised journey known as a trip chain. Stitching these different modes of transport cohesively together is particularly important for disabled travellers who need very specific information about their journey. SkedGo’s Software Development Kits (SDK), API and white label solutions provide data for wheelchair friendly routing and real time alerts at the journey planning stage. In an ideal world, passengers can use one MaaS app to see if a station has steps or a ramp, they can ask for assistance ahead of time, or be notified when lifts are broken or escalators aren’t working so they can modify their route. Occupancy data of individual carriages means those with hidden disabilities, such as agoraphobia, can see which carriages are the least crowded and move to a different part of the platform. Walking speed can also be personalised, so passengers can more accurately judge how long it will take them to reach their destination, all helping to alleviate the travel frustration many disabled people currently face.
Supportive journey planning relies on access to open transport data to provide the greatest value to each transport user. Around the world, MaaS trials and proof of concepts are providing real-world examples of how this works. In the UK, London has moved towards open data for all, with Transport for London enabling developers to access real-time route information via a free API. 600 travel apps are now powered by this data, including accessibility features such as noting which rail stations have step free access en route. This year, the Bus Open Data Service will also activate in the UK, offering sharing countrywide information on bus routes, timetables, bus location and fares with app developers.
“The implementation of the Nordic Mobility Innovation Platform could one day mean travellers could use a single app to access multiple forms of transport between Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, with accessibility features built in from the very start”
Scandinavia provides several great examples of MaaS ecosystems. The city of Helsinki in Finland is ahead of the game in passing laws to enable MaaS and to open up its transport data. Meanwhile, the Nordic Mobility Innovation Platform (NMIP) is looking even wider, with the project aiming to share open data across all Nordic countries, creating a unified mobility market. That could one day mean travellers could use a single app to access multiple forms of transport between Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, with accessibility features built in from the very start. Further afield, the Autism CRC (Collaborative Research Centre) in Australia used open accessibility data from Transport for NSW (TfNSW) to trial the OrienTrip app, enabling passengers on the autism spectrum to choose less-crowded services, pick carriages with more seats available or reduce the number of interchanges to help ease travel anxiety on public transport. Openness is one of the greatest enablers for MaaS. As companies embrace new collaborations and business models, they will come up with innovative ways to solve real-world mobility issues.
For a disabled passenger, it is often the first and last mile of a journey that can be the hardest so the development of autonomous and on-demand vehicles brings new ways to travel, particularly for those who are unable to drive themselves. BusBot is regional Australia’s first automated vehicle trail. In 2019 the company launched an on-demand autonomous shuttle service for a retirement village in New South Wales, opening up mobility to a group that is traditionally not well catered for. Using the BusBot smartphone app, residents can request a ride and be picked up from a virtual bus stop, avoiding unnecessary detours along the way. In Japan, WHILL, the personal electric vehicle company, is trialling autonomous wheelchairs at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, to help individuals with limited mobility get around more easily before their flight.
“The vision of MaaS is to reduce private car use, carbon emissions and redress inequality in mobility. We are at a critical stage to make a difference for those who rely on public transport today and in the future”
When aggregated as part of a MaaS offering, and within the correct legal and regulatory framework, these new modes of transport provide a much-needed lifeline for passengers with mobility needs to bridge the first and last mile gap, helping them to travel safely and efficiently.
The vision of MaaS is to reduce private car use, carbon emissions and redress inequality in mobility. We are at a critical stage to make a difference for those who rely on public transport today and in the future. MaaS can facilitate better access to information to help plan, pay and manage every part of the travel journey, supporting a holistic approach that gives equal access to transport. However, it cannot happen in isolation. Industry bodies like the MaaS Alliance are creating much needed awareness for open data requirements, educating companies on the benefits of providing standardised data that is easy to use for all tech developments. Organisations must implement accessibility features at their core; legacy transport systems must be upgraded to make them accessible and real-time data needs to be made readily available so it can be integrated into MaaS applications.
“Accessibility should always be at the forefront for transport planners. This includes engaging with advocacy groups to ensure important decisions take account of those they impact”
At different points in our lives we may all have mobility needs: parents with small children and prams; holiday makers with heavy luggage; or times when we are dealing with a temporary injury. Accessibility should always be at the forefront for transport planners. This includes engaging with advocacy groups to ensure important decisions take account of those they impact. Every stakeholder has an important role to play – whether a tech company, transport manufacturer or provider, local authority or government. City and state governments need to create the right environment for corporations to follow through by incentivising accessibility and providing the right legislative environment. By working together, we can build upon our strengths as an industry and help to ensure that MaaS supports better access to transport for all.
Sandra Witzel is Head of Marketing at SkedGo