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Report: Transport revolution – the future of accessible public transport in urban areas

Public transport is crucial to the liveability of any city. But today public transport is still off-limits to some people and fails to fulfil the needs of others. The report “Transport revolution – the future of accessible public transport in urban areas” investigates how we can make public transport accessible and useful for everyone by applying modern mobility solutions.

Public transport has many benefits. It reduces pollution, helps foster a sense of community by making us travel together, encourages active lifestyles, reduces injuries and fatalities caused by car accidents and requires less land use than road infrastructure. As public transport is such a crucial part of any city it should be accessible for all irrespective of social group or physical ability. However, in many European cities the public transport is still off-limits for some of the citizens and visitors. Meanwhile, other groups are choosing not to use public transport as it does not fulfil their needs.

Providing access to efficient public transport for all types of users requires striking a balance between installing sufficient numbers of stops to reduce walking distances and reducing travel times on high capacity services. By using new solutions and technology access to mobility can be granted to people who have previously not been able to fully take advantage of the public transport system. Meanwhile the efficiency for the system can be increased.

New technology can make it easier for travellers to use public transport.

What is accessible transport?

Accessibility refers to people’s ability to access goods, services and activities. It can, when discussing public transport, be categorised into two main perspectives. On the one hand accessibility is characterised by the time and cost associated with reaching various destinations from a given origin. On the other hand, it relates to the effort needed to understand the transport system, walking to stops or stations, the barriers when entering and exiting vehicles, as well as the cognitive effort needed to understand and pay for rides.

New solutions and technology improving mobility

Today, there are several options for people wanting to get to public transport stops or stations that are not within close walking distance. These include bikes, e-bikes, taxis and cars. However, they all present challenges in terms of physical accessibility, and monetary as well as environmental costs. Service that transport citizens to high capacity routes are usually costly to run and fail to appeal to all potential users. For a transport system to be both effective and accessible, better solutions are required to enable people to get to their nearest station offering a high capacity service. In the near future, we expect the concepts of shared mobility, mobility as a service, and autonomous vehicle to considerably disrupt the transport sector, while also having the potential to provide access to mobility for all in modern urban areas.

  • Shared mobility is a transportation strategy that allows users to access transportation services on an at-need basis. For example, both public transport and car-pools can be counted as shared mobility initiatives. With increased digitalisation we can apply shared mobility even more, with apps and other technological tools facilitating sharing of vehicles.
  • Mobility as a Service are mobility solutions that integrate services from several mobility providers into one single service. It is typically packaged as an app or another digital platform and provides services from public and private mobility providers. A user will be able to buy a trip from a mobility solution that fits his or her needs at a specific time and that takes him or her seamlessly all the way to his or her desired destination.
  • An autonomous vehicle can sense its environment and navigating without human input. Autonomous vehicles have been operating for many years in rail systems in closed areas, separate from primary rail systems. These systems have been highly reliable and have shown the potential to increase capacity and improve safety, as well as reducing operating costs. The current focus is to start using autonomous vehicles in cities and have them operate on the streets used by conventional vehicles.
    When done correctly, the mobility services of the future may offer the flexibility to move that is hard to imagine today. It will be easy to combine modes of transport, to vary the package of transport forms used from day to day, and to combine individual and collective solutions.

When done correctly, the mobility services of the future may offer the flexibility to move that is hard to imagine today. It will be easy to combine modes of transport, to vary the package of transport forms used from day to day, and to combine individual and collective solutions.

Passengers waiting for self-driving bus

Getting everyone on board

Readily available public transport is vital for cities and their inhabitants. To accelerate the development of accessible mobility, Sweco has the following recommendations for policy makers, city-planners and aspiring suppliers of the mobility services of tomorrow:

  • Analyse and identify local barriers to the development of shared mobility, self-driving vehicles and mobility as a service. Some barriers, like national regulation, will have to be handled by governments while others, like infrastructure, can partly be solved by local policy makers.
  • Urban planning should always be done with transport supply in focus, since good planning may significantly change the need for public space used for cars. With the mobility solutions proposed in this report, urban planning should consider that trans-port supply may also significantly increase the possible travel range for citizens living in areas outside a reasonable walking distance from highly effective public transport lines.
  • To gain citizen acceptance, new transport solutions should be introduced in steps, starting with areas that are currently not well served by public transport. But rapid and large-scale implementation will improve attractiveness of the system and reduce operation costs.
  • Regardless of the business model chosen for operating the transport system, local policy makers should take measures to limit exclusive occupancy of shared vehicles. System efficiency may otherwise suffer. They should also make sure that the vehicles that operate the system are accessible for those with impairments and special mobility needs.

Report: Transport revolution – the future of accessible public transport in urban areas

About the authors

Sara Polle is a human geographer and group manager for Sweco’s Norwegian mobility team and an expert on sustainable mobility and urban development. She is professionally engaged in a wide spectrum of mobility projects. Sara is a key consultant for Oslo municipalities’ sustainable “car-free” urban development and a contributor to Sweco’s Urban Insight. In the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, she graduated as a process manager and led a wide range of road and street planning projects. Sara always looks for new methods and opportunities for further development, selecting and designing methods that help activate participants’ creativity and ensuring a high level of innovation.

Helge Gidske Naper has worked as a strategic planner and project manager since 2002. Helge is an expert at strategic level-research and has excellent methodology skills. His work focuses on sustainable urban transport, with an emphasis on public transport. Through visualisation and emphasis on clear reasoning, he ensures good processes and involvement of all those involved in the projects in which he participates. Since 2011, Helge has been an external examiner at the master’s programme APL 360, Planning for Sustainable Urban Regions, at Aas University (NMBU).

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