By Rebecca Sands, Content & Project Manager, Autonomy & the Urban Mobility Company
Click here to watch a recording of MaaS for All: Creating a User-centric, Inclusive MaaS Ecosystem.
What can we do in order to ensure an inclusive future for all users of transport and mobility? What has the research up to this point showed us, and are there any existing case studies we can learn from? These are some of the questions that last week’s virtual workshop – MaaS for All: Creating a User-centric, Inclusive MaaS Ecosystem – sought to dig into. Co-hosted by MaaS Alliance’s Users & Rights Working Group and the Urban Mobility Company, we focused on one of MaaS Alliance’s key topics: user-centricity. Welcoming experts Nicole Kalms, Associate Professor and Founding Director of Monash University’s XYX Lab, James Gleave, Principal Consultant at TRL, Isabelle Clement, Director of Wheels for Wellbeing, Joanna Ward, Associate Transport Planner, and Sandra Witzel, Head of Marketing at Skedgo, the discussion focused on what Piia Karjalainen, Secretary General of MaaS Alliance, describes as the only KPI that truly counts – user satisfaction. In a conversation that reinforced the need of all mobility actors to lead by example in order to achieve an inclusive experience for every user, here are the discussion’s key takeaways.
Moving Beyond the Subjective Experience
According to James Gleave, perhaps issues of inclusivity originate from the understanding that the use of mobility is a deeply subjective experience. We all have our own preferences and ways that we interact with and use mobility, but to experience it from someone else’s perspective is a very hard thing to do. Mobility, as it were, reflects the characteristics of our own lives. While it can be useful to have tools like design guides, best practices for different user groups, and even a healthy dose of empathy, recreating certain lived experiences without actually having those users as a part of the design process is extremely difficult. According to a workshop poll, on average, only 40% of attendees’ companies were either actively identifying or making issues of safety and/or accessibility a top priority. Therefore, an approach of deep co-design in all levels of the transport system – infrastructure, services, and information – is the only true solution to reaching inclusivity.
For Users, With Users
At the moment where mobility professionals understand the responsibility to work with all user groups as a part of the design process, contributors must be integrated right from the start. For Isabelle Clement, in creating Wheels for Wellbeing, she understood that sharing experiences with planners, funders, and deliverers of mobility was essential, otherwise opportunities to move and travel freely would continue to be very limited. Therefore, Wheels for Wellbeing made strong efforts to self-educate, not as ‘experts’ of mobility, but as informed users who know where to go and influence in ways that stimulate collaboration. This has resulted in the organization’s ongoing work with Transport for London, one of the world’s largest public transit bodies. Yet for Nicole Kalms, there is also value in bringing a diverse user group into the design process from the position of expert. This is what XYX Lab did amongst users, policymakers, and designers, devaluing the perceived ‘experts’ in the room in order to stimulate a level playing field of participatory co-design.
Whatever process best integrates all users into the design and decision-making processes, for Joanna Ward, the essential factor is what is done with the input. If those ultimately responsible for making mobility decisions encourage users to communicate their experience without truly hearing or incorporating feedback into the implementation phase, this kind of conduct directs inclusivity to a dead end and can create a broken record sentiment for those consulted.
Educate from the Beginning
Essential to the mobility industry as a whole ensuring that its leaders, designers, and decision makers consider the needs of all users is to integrate this responsibility as a core aspect of undergraduate and postgraduate training. According to Nicole Kalms, it is a huge failing in the education of mobility professionals to not include this kind of thinking into the job description. What results is an industry where advocating and designing for all users is not yet seen as an integral part of most mobility roles and organizations, and in many cases requires that individuals become champions within their organizations instead of the concept being a fundamental part of the business. Understanding and designing for all users should be foundational training and a responsibility of all transport professionals if they truly believe in the core principles of transport and mobility.
Relatedly, the research community has its own obligations to fulfill. If user-centricity can be seen as a priority in the academic community and integrated into the education of professionals, this could help fill the still much-too-wide research gap in the field. For Joanna and Isabelle, feeding research into design is imperative to create the right opportunities for adoption. For it is only through aligning research and design that more people will cycle, walk, and embrace other forms of sustainable travel. When all users can easily access and take full advantage of mobility, those with similar needs see what their peers and role models are capable of doing and they copy it. We see behavior in each other to realize the same amount of freedom and movement is possible for ourselves.
A business case that leads to better problem-solving
In the realization of fully inclusive mobility systems, a proper debate on how public spaces should be used must occur. If they are designed as truly user-centric, what is left is a multi-beneficial public space that captures the buying power of all citizens. Good marketing is looking at the target audience, and in the world of mobility, this isn’t happening nearly enough as it should. Emerging systems like MaaS are a great tool to not only bring different transport modes together for the benefit of every user, but they also open up city spaces to more economic activity (if done right). Indeed, 63% of Workshop participants thought that MaaS has the most potential to make trips easier to plan and complete by recommending mobility modes based on the user’s needs. While the principal goal of any transport or city planning should theoretically be highly focused on ease of accessibility and use, today’s world usually means that there has to be a good business case for any decision, unfortunately.
For XYX Lab, this often means putting diverse user needs into a language that stakeholders and decision makers are interested in. If women opt out of public transportation, there’s a price consequence for the loss of a key user group. If a disabled passenger can only freely access all that their city has to offer in a private car, this increases emissions and thwarts sustainability goals. Once again, mobility professionals should be genuinely interested and dedicated to all-inclusive systems. Yet for the time being it seems that the consequences of narrow design may be a more powerful bargaining chip.
However, if mobility professionals can adequately tackle challenges related to user-centricity, a lot more complex problems have the potential to be solved. In designing for all users, products, services, and infrastructure are improved and thought about in an entirely new way. The mobility industry has a range of massive challenges that it must continue to address, including navigating social distancing and other measures to reduce the threat of COVID-19 for passengers, issues of socioeconomic inequality and access, climate change, and the greater health and obesity crises. Thinking inclusively will enable the transport and mobility industries to get closer to solving much bigger, intractable problems that touch upon their role in society.
Ultimately, if various groups are opting out of mobility services because they are not adapted to all users’ needs, who are these services really for? These are not niche requests – women, people of color, mentally and physically impaired users, children, and parents are just some of the large portions of the population that require and deserve consideration of their specific needs. As mobility actors are, in effect, collectively responsible for the successful movement of 7 billion people on this planet, there exists no justified excuse for not creating inclusive systems.
Click here to watch a recording of MaaS for All: Creating a User-centric, Inclusive MaaS Ecosystem