Major steps to understand people’s needs

In ULTIMO project we are creating a large-scale, well-accepted, seamless-integrated and economically viable AV-based public transport service. Particular attention is paid to the needs of people that rely on public transport, due to disabilities and age. A team of ULTIMO-project is dedicated to finding out what these people need to be able to use a transport service safely.

Numerous insights have already been gained in this field of work by analysing other projects, creating personas and, above all, doing on-site visits and interviews with the people concerned. For Linda Mathé, the head of this working group, the on-site visits and interviews are the most valuable tool: “When observing passengers using public transport, it becomes very clear what obstacles and problems there are,” she says.

Over the last 18 months of the project the working group has visited four autonomous public transport services in Germany to get familiar with their strengths and weaknesses with regard to people with disabilities. If possible they have been accompanied by people with disabilities, such as visually impaired people or people who rely on a wheelchair. When they visited a site, they started by booking a journey via the app. Before the actual journey started, it was all about going to the right stop and getting on board. Then they took the ride and deboarded at the destination.

During the four site visits, it became evident that apps and means of public transport barely meet the needs of people with disabilities. “Apps often do not meet the requirements for accessible usage and booking”, Linda Mathé says. Also shuttles and buses often lack the equipment that would enable blind and disabled people to get around easily. People who cannot see rely on complete and reliable information. They want to know whether they have boarded the right bus, whether they are travelling in the right direction and what is going on in case of incidents. “The information must be available in a form that these persons can perceive. For blind persons, for example, information in and around the bus has to be audible, buttons must feature braille writing”, she says. This is particularly necessary in autonomous driving when there is no bus driver on board to ask.

To gather ideas on how vehicles can be better designed not only for people with disabilities, but also for those who have concerns about the safety and functionality of autonomous driving, the working group organised hackathons. At these events, they utilized the collective intelligence of the participants to develop solutions that form the basis for the development of apps, vehicles and services. This valuable input of citizens has been gathered already three times in the course of the project. The first time, people in Geneva were invited to share their ideas with the ULTIMO-team. Then there was a Smart City Xperience Hackathon and the third hackathon took place in Oslo. In 2024 further hackathons will be organized, e.g. in Herford, at the German demo site.

“With every site visit and every hackathon, we learn more about how people imagine autonomous transport services and what they need to be able to accept them”, Linda Mathé says. This is a big step towards creating accessible and user-friendly service.