Designing an inclusive transport network

28 June 2021
Train station terminal.
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Gender and inclusive mobility are emerging areas, because to date, Mobility has not been fully inclusive. When designing improvements to Mobility infrastructure, facilities, and services it should be evident that these cover all people, but it just isn’t.

It shouldn’t be necessary to create specific focus areas but, in the same way that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, you can’t address problems that you can’t appreciate as being challenging. Problems experienced by women may never be fully understood by men.

Unfortunately, women and men here can be swapped for a whole range of other characteristics including, but not exclusively, disabled and non-disabled, those of different ages, sexual orientation, ethnicity, levels of affluence etc. I could go on, but you get the idea

From this point on, where reference is made to men and women (Gender Mobility), I’m using this to represent any unequal balance of needs.

So, who are transport professionals designing for?

Anyone who’s considered parking in a poorly lit and secluded corner of a multi-storey car park won’t feel like the target audience. Anyone who’s looked over their shoulder as they passed through a train or bus station, despite the presence of security cameras, won’t feel like the intended recipient. Anyone who’s felt animosity from fellow shoppers while using a disabled or parent and toddler bay won’t necessarily be grateful for the dedicated provision. So, unless transport professionals take these diverse experiences into account, they’re probably excluding people through design.

Inclusive design means inclusive solutions.

Existing analysis and data only present part of the problem and should be used as only part of the solution.

‘Survival bias’ theory, details how a result is flawed by only using datasets which represent part of the problem. For example: ‘90% of people who experience violent crime in multistorey carparks are men’ doesn’t consider the fact that women are much less likely to use these spaces, anyway, so are automatically excluded from the original data.

We need to consider that most recommended ‘gender neutral’ measures are often male-orientated and overwhelmingly serve the needs of men. Even where solutions advocate a ‘best fit’ approach, individuals or groups can sometimes be missed. This typically reflects inherent biases (conscious or subconscious) or simply doesn’t go far enough to include everyone.

Rather than trying to apply known travel patterns to new mobility types, Intelligent Mobility collect new data and make proposals that start afresh. When launching a recent eScooter trial, we engaged extensively with end users and stakeholders to gather insight and feedback, rather than looking to typical public action. We aligned our proposal with what everyone needed from, or does with, the facility (in this case, an eScooter) and, in doing so, were able to push forward better mobility alternatives.

When it comes to inclusive design, data is key.

Data is a valuable commodity – capturing as much as possible can lead to both direct and indirect efficiencies. This means we can make sure that solutions remain responsive to the needs of all users.

We help our clients to navigate innovation and new, emerging technologies which shape their long-term planning and agendas. By stepping back, we make sure that the solutions implemented enhance the experience for all users, equally, rather than maintaining old habits.

A recent Cycle Share Scheme deployment saw us recommend data being captured alongside an inclusive cycle fleet (for example, step-through access, handcycles, 3 and 4 wheeled cycles). This involved collating information which was sensitive to the varying barriers – both real and perceived – affecting journeys and modal choice. We also advocated that this changing dataset is factored into broader strategic decisions on current and future active travel behaviours. This enabled new schemes and funding applications to demonstrate truly community-focused outcomes.

Saying goodbye to the status quo

Many aspects of our project deliveries are limited by outdated ideas of end user needs or desires. It’s our role to challenge these obsolete practices so that new behaviours aren’t limited by previous principles.

For a recent public transport improvement scheme, we endorsed measures making public transport accessible in a range of ways, accommodating a greater variety of user needs. We also recommended that facilities should support trip-chaining and non-commuting journeys as well as ensuring equitable provision of services for all users, for example, introducing interactive information points at a height which is not prohibitive to wheelchair users.

Another example would be that placing information screens at a convenient height for the average man puts women at a disadvantage. This can be compounded when peak time travel tariffs and primary destinations are based on typical male working patterns and travel behaviours. Exploring this has led to a better understanding of user needs and desires.

Network for all

The work that Intelligent Mobility does is critical to ensuring we build an inclusive transport network of the future. Our expertise puts us at the forefront of delivering cutting-edge projects, meaning we could connect the needs of all users directly with technologies and services.

Previous travel behaviours shouldn’t limit the scope of our ambitions and development towards a gender-balanced transport system. The risk is that old biases and inherent disadvantages become embedded in new and emerging technologies. Understanding and addressing these biases gives us the opportunity to create a truly gender-balanced, inclusive and intelligent mobility network for all.

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