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Accessible mobility promotes social sustainability

Published on 2.6.2023
Tampere University
Ihmiset kulkevat kohti raitiovaunua, joka odottaa pysäkillä.
Photo: Markku Turunen
Promoting the digitalisation of mobility services is a national goal both in Finland and globally. At Tampere University, the topic is addressed especially by the Tampere Accessibility Unit TACCU and Tampere Unit for Computer-Human Interaction TAUCHI. One of their goals is to promote sustainable and equal mobility for all. The researchers see that Tampere as a university community and as a city has the opportunity to be a forerunner in social sustainability.

In March 2023, students at Tampere University served as passengers in a congestion test in the Lyyli Living Lab environment, which collected data on, for example, passenger counting system, physical accessibility of ticketing devices, and passenger experience. The students were also tasked with observing public transport from a digital and physical accessibility perspective.

Lyyli Living Lab is a development and testing environment for urban transport products and services in a real-life operating environment, more specifically in a tram. The congestion test was organised by the City of Tampere, Tampere Tramway Ltd., Business Tampere, Skoda, Technical Research Center of Finland VTT and Tampere University. It is a nationally unique piloting entity.

“We have conducted a survey to the students who participated in the test to find out the needs and habits of different types of passengers, as well as perspectives on digital and physical accessibility. On a larger scale, the aim of our study is to investigate and develop passenger services and solutions related to tram and public transport environment,” Researcher Tero Avellan says. 

Preliminary results of the survey show that there is a need for more communication about tram etiquette when travelling by tram, for example, and more handles and bars for rush hours, as well as highlighting the location of the ticket readers with bright colours and high-placed signs.

Multimodal and personalized mobility experiences to increase accessibility

Earlier studies have shown that transitions in travel chains and ever-changing information, for example, on schedules, are perceived as challenging. The travel chain refers to all phases of a person’s journey from the point of departure to the destination, including, for example, route planning. The aim is now to develop mobility services by taking better account of multimodal and personalized mobility experiences through digital solutions.

By developing the digital and physical accessibility of public transport, we are able to streamline travel chains and thereby improve the passenger experience. Better passenger experience, in turn, increases the attractiveness and utilisation rate of public transport, reducing, for example, private car use,” Avellan says.

The operating environment can present information to passengers based on, for example, sight, hearing or even sense of touch. As an example, a passenger with sensory defensiveness could also be guided, if necessary, to a place with less sensory load on the vehicle.

Digital and physical accessibility are key themes of social sustainability

Social sustainability refers to services and technological solutions that promote non-discrimination and equality between members of society. The activities of TACCU focus especially on social sustainability, which aims to promote equality, among other things. Digital and physical accessibility are key themes in it.

“When the right opportunity comes, we will definitely continue to use the mass potential of students for research. The processes involved in the congestion test already taught us a lot, but the operating models for effective inclusion of students still need to be developed,” Postdoctoral Research Fellow Tuuli Keskinen says.

Accessibility is at the heart of TACCU’s activities, but it is also an important factor in many projects of TAUCHI now and in the future. Projects combining mobility services and an accessibility theme are also already underway and about to be launched.

“It is important to note that sustainable development is a multidimensional phenomenon and, in addition to traditional ecological sustainability, the target is social sustainability in particular. Tampere as a university community and as a city has the opportunity to be a forerunner in this,” Professor Markku Turunen points out.