According to TfL those aged 65 and older make up 12% of London’s population. It is estimated that at least 40% of those have an impairment or health condition, affecting their travel behaviour and attitude to public transport. In recent years, the difficulties faced by this demographic group have been increasingly researched and documented and concerns have been raised as to whether the UK’s overall public transport system is failing older people.
A report published in June 2015 from the International Longevity Centre thinktank and Age UK show large percentages of older people across England struggling to access basic services and amenities such as health centres, the supermarket, the bank or the post office. The most vulnerable are those who do not have access to a private car and rely solely on public transport. Amongst the 65 to 80 year-olds in that situation who have difficulty walking more than a quarter of a mile, more than half do not use public transport, indicating that current provision is not adequately meeting their needs.
The report also suggests that technological innovation (alongside other measures) presents opportunities to make transport more convenient and reliable to the elderly. Investment in age-friendly infrastructure – road network, step-free access, level crossings, lifts, adequate live departure boards and audio-visual announcements, improvements in way-finding and navigation aids – are strongly encouraged.
In this context, where the UK grapples with increased longevity and an ageing population, we are delighted to announce the launch of MobiliCity, a research initiative aiming to make London’s transport network more accessible for various groups of users with impaired mobility. We are particularly interested in investigating how older Londoners, amongst those, navigate the network, in order to assist in improving their wellbeing and independence. This six-month project is funded by the European Commission, Horizon 2020 Programme, under the OrganiCity umbrella.
As a group of urban professionals and data scientists, MobiliCity want to collect data from volunteers using London’s public transport to identify problem areas for accessibility within the network. Our aim is to use this data to make recommendations to the appropriate authorities on changes they can implement to improve user experience.
In order to do that, we are developing an app, to be launched in mid-January 2017, which will track the trajectories of the volunteers (completely anonymously) as they use public transport. Users will also be able to make comments on their journeys and offer suggestions as they travel. We will be able to use the data to infer “mobility black spots” – key areas of inaccessibility identified along the network; and report our findings to authorities responsible for areas of difficulty, including TfL, Network Rail and London Boroughs, with recommendations for improvements.
The concept behind OrganiCity, the European Commission programme funding the experiment, is to keep citizens at the core of city growth – to be smart, cities must develop around their needs and enable citizen action. Thus, we wish to use customer insights to challenge current assumptions when planning accessible transport, improve overall experience and increase people‘s confidence in using public transport. Our dream is that Londoners in the future will be able to access transport equally, regardless of any mobility issues.
Our biggest challenge at the moment is to attract enough volunteers for a substantial data sample, so if you think you could help us, please take a moment to look at our website www.mobilicity.london and register your interest. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter @mobilicity_LDN for updates.