How can cities bring smart mobility to all?
Urban mobility is one of the fastest-changing elements of society. Until recent years, our transport options were scarce, limited to conventional public or private transport – like buses, metros, or cars – but new smart mobility (e.g. shared bikes or scooters) provides us with a multitude of options. There is a problem however. Although smart mobility was intended for everyone, groups of users have been implicitly sidelined in the use of these new forms of mobility. Cities must become aware of this lack of inclusivity and start designing smart mobility solutions for all – including our children, the elderly, and people with reduced mobility.
LACK OF INCLUSIVITY IN SMART MOBILITY
Smart mobility promises to fulfil the need for immediate and flexible transportation among users – especially in city centres – whilst bringing the element of soft mobility. This allows people to move freely around a city while combining discovery, speed and convenience. This vision is certainly something we should strive for, but one crucial aspect of mobility is too often overlooked – accessibility.
According to several studies, many smart mobility options (such as bike-sharing or free-floating scooters) are predominantly used by a single group of people: well-educated young adults living in urban areas. Members of this user group tend to have no children and own fewer or no cars per household.1
Although smart mobility was intended for everyone, it hasn’t actually been designed for everyone. For example, young children can often be unsafely seated on a shared bicycle, discouraging families to use this means of transport. Other user groups, such as senior citizens and passengers with reduced mobility, are even less likely to opt for smart mobility services, due to their physical difficulties in using the available vehicles.
COMMON CHALLENGES FACED BY THESE USERS
Smart mobility solutions don’t usually cater to PRMs
(People with reduced mobility)
As we have seen, younger children, senior citizens and PRMs face many obstacles to using smart mobility in cities, starting with proposed vehicles that haven’t been adapted to their needs.
Even though the recent introduction of e-bikes in shared mobility systems has expanded access to people of varying abilities, such as older adult riders, smart mobility is still far from adapting its offering to the entire population. For instance, a wheelchair user cannot benefit from any shared bikes or free-floating scooters that we see in our cities today. Elderly citizens also face other difficulties, like using unfamiliar digital tools used for smart mobility solutions.
Furthermore, one of the main common challenges that impacts these specific groups is safety. Families, PRMs and elderly citizens are usually much more concerned about potentially suffering from induced injuries.
That’s why smart mobility solutions must be ergonomically adaptable and reliable in terms of safety to appeal to these potential users. Sadly, senior citizens have seen increased vulnerability on public roads. In 2019, more than half of the pedestrians and cyclists killed in accidents (57.5%) were at least 65 years old2. This is mainly down to cognitive and motor skills deteriorating with age, and it requires an appropriate response.
All of the aforementioned parameters will deter these groups from trying shared mobility solutions. We should also consider their financial situations too. Young families, elderly citizens and PRMs may have lower incomes3.
SOLUTIONS FOR INCLUSIVE MOBILITY IN CITIES
Faced with these issues, cities can act and lead a transition towards a society that is truly inclusive. One of the most likely solutions to meet different needs is of course innovation.
New creative mobility solutions are flourishing on the European market to provide these users with a new freedom of movement. One example is the Benur solution, an electric handbike designed to be entirely inclusive: “Benur is the first electrically-assisted bicycle for people with reduced mobility without transfer. Like a Roman chariot, you get on and off the Benur bike without the help of a third party”4.
Benur’s design is fully inclusive, featuring additional benches that can be modified to accommodate people without wheelchairs, adults and their children, the elderly, or people carrying heavy loads.
Benur is the first electrically-assisted bicycle for PRMs
Omni Community Mobility has designed a system to attach scooters to mechanical wheelchairs
Other solutions, like Omni’s GlobeTrotter5, have been designed to adapt smart mobility to people with reduced mobility. The French company has designed a plug system that allows a scooter to be attached to a mechanical wheelchair.
Still, implementing fully inclusive mobility is not without its challenges. Shared mobility is a very recent innovation that not all cities have adopted, as it requires local authorities and society to think differently when it comes to transport.
One of the main challenges is to raise awareness in cities about the exclusion of these affected populations. Cities need to be aware of the demand for mobility that is adaptable to everyone.
According to expert estimations6, more than one-third of the European population consists of people with reduced mobility who constantly face barriers while walking, cycling, or using public transport. These statistics include people with physical disabilities, senior citizens and children, as well as people with language difficulties or problems with orientation.
The lack of a clear and identified business case is also a problem that needs to be taken into account and raises some questions:
- Where should these new mobility solutions be developed? (In city centres? In rural areas? In tourist areas, or hospitals?)
- Which model can be implemented for operators? (Free-floating, rental, shared-ownership?)
- How can we create a financially viable business model?
- Which solutions are available in Europe? The market is still underdeveloped. There is a limited number of creative and innovative solutions within Europe that provide smart mobility options for these users.
Cities need to start reflecting and designing great smart mobility solutions for everyone – including our children, elderly, and people with reduced mobility.
With a strong belief in this vision, Bax & Company is developing a new European project together with leading international cities to bring smart mobility to all. If you would like some more information, contact one of our consultants below.