November 8, 2021
For decades, transport planning has been built on a non-inclusive foundation, almost promoting inequities by nature. Different social groups such as seniors, immigrants, women, disabled and others living mostly in peripheral areas, still face significant barriers to finding safe and affordable transport. According to Eurobarometer, the use of private transport modes (mostly cars) is closely related to income levels: only 37% of respondents who report difficulties paying bills use a car on a daily basis, whereas that number jumps to 52% among those who never have difficulty covering costs.
Women, for example, have developed different mobility patterns as a result of historical gender roles in which they are responsible for childcare, domestic work or caregiving. As a result, many women still earn less, which makes them highly dependent on public transport even for longer distance trips. The General Directorate of Conciliation and Institutional Cooperation for Equal Opportunities of Spain found that in Madrid 63.3% of trips made by women are on foot or by public transport. Public transport systems therefore are crucial for women to establish independence, as poor mobility and reduced access to transport prevent some women from professional fulfillment and growth.
How did we get here? The barriers to transport equity are diverse, but the following are some of the most significant:
- Lack of awareness about the importance of social sustainability in transport: The complex dynamics of the transport system are often not analysed and understood, leading to a situation where those responsible for developing policies and taking action opt for traditional solutions such as investing in infrastructure instead of maintenance, improving conditions for private transport or distributing untargeted subsidies that should be directed to the most vulnerable groups. In Spain, the metro, train and bus offering was cut by upwards of 20% in 2018, extending wait times and delays and increasing mechanical issues due to strain on resources and lack of maintenance.
- The automotive industry continues to be very robust: The powerful car industry has led an ongoing and successful campaign to make car ownership a status symbol and to associate cars with high quality of life. Likewise, for many years, institutions have promoted and facilitated the space for the use of the car. The Spanish and European car fleet has grown so dramatically in the last thirty years, that cities have been brought to a halt by traffic and loss of space due to personal cars. Measures such as installing large parking lots near transport stations on the periphery of cities that would allow combining routes to leave cars behind are still rare. In addition, for those with less access to cars, who cannot afford to live near to their jobs, getting to work is increasingly difficult and can reduce quality of life.
- Absence of diversity in decision making: The historical lack of diversity among those responsible for urban planning and mobility means that the system does not meet the needs of all groups. According to the article ‘What Would A City Look Like If It Were Designed Entirely By And For Women? These Places Offer A Glimpse’, this is the reason why accessibility and considerations for women in transportation is often lacking. For example, sparsely population and scarcely lit areas are common features that make transport less safe for women. Researchers from Vienna have also found out how as children grow, girls tend to crowd in a corner of parks and playgrounds due to urban design reasons.
Though we still have a way to go to address these issues, the climate in the industry is starting to change. The number of transportation institutions and companies requiring an equity lens through which to see their work is growing. They are increasingly looking to create measures that benefit communities who typically have the least support though there is much progress to be made on this front. France sets an example by testing free public transport, as the pandemic revealed just how much lower-income and non-white riders depend on mass transit for their commutes and their livelihood. Transportation planners and officials and transit agency managers are considering introducing reduced or free fares in public transport in some cities.
There is a clear need to address the injustices of the past in order to achieve more equitable outcomes in the mobility sector and other measures such as the implementation of car-free zones in London or the redesign of public spaces in Vienna have been developed. At Meep, we are embracing this effort through what we believe is a very powerful tool: MaaS (Mobility as a Service). We develop MaaS solutions to increase accessibility to the transport system, acting in accordance with principles of equity, always taking into account the challenges in today’s transport system.
Equity is about meeting needs
Personalisation and customisation are two of the core principles that underscore MaaS. Travellers need the opportunity to find routes and services adapted to their needs. As Gus Alexiou states in his article Mobility As A Service’ Concept Promises To Revolutionize Transport Accessibility, ‘‘the secret sauce lies in the granularity of choices MaaS places at the user’s fingertips.’’ Examples of these choices might be including a search filter that yields only wheelchair-friendly routes or providing real-time data about a station’s lighting and proximity to other points of interest to provide safer routes.
Because technology is an integral part of MaaS, it lends itself to incorporating services and features such as these. At Meep, we are adding to our MaaS solutions a speech synthesizer that reads and explains what is displayed on the screen of the app, a feature that we hope will assist visually impaired riders. Our aim is to democratise mobility through MaaS, tackling traffic by offering our users more sustainable alternatives to move around and increasing transport access for all people. Meep is operator agnostic and we are always adding new mobility services combinations (sharing, on-demand and pooling), reducing barriers between different modes.
The importance of transportation equity analysis
Transportation equity analysis is the process of evaluating mobility data in order to obtain valuable insights (e.g. travel behaviours) that perpetuate equality values when making decisions. It is essential to ensure that transport is made to cover everyone’s needs.
Before building roads, buildings or other infrastructure, developers and transportation leaders conduct traffic impact studies; however, these studies do not normally include effects on those without personal cars (such as those who travel by bike or foot). Meepath, a proprietary analytics tool at Meep, is our contribution towards expanding the scope of studies like these. Meepath employs artificial intelligence to offer services such as urban and transportation insights, future demand and usage pattern predictions and operation recommendations. We consolidate, verify and correlate data gathered from transportation systems to produce high value data with which we can analyze and understand these systems. Mobility authorities and transport providers will be able to make better decisions based on real insights.
At Meep, we are on a mission to make cities (and their outskirts) more liveable for all through Mobility as a Service that encourages equitable transportation and mobility. The ability for all people to move freely, safely and independently promotes a healthier economy and higher quality of living.
*Main image: Credits: Eddi Aguirre