The equality and accessibility of smart mobility inspired discussion

New technologies and services are changing the ways in which people travel from place to place. But how could these technologies and services be used to develop mobility in a more diverse and inclusive direction? 

The message of the Smart Mobility Belongs to Everyone event held at Helsinki City Hall on 13 November was loud and clear: there is a clear and present need for and massive untapped business potential in the development of equal smart mobility solutions.

Freedom of movement is a basic human right. In Finland, work towards improving the equality and accessibility of transportation has been underway for several decades, with good results. The lessons learned from these efforts must now also be applied to the myriad new modes of transport and mobility services entering the market.

As many as one fifth of Europeans have some sort of disability. As the population continues to age, this proportion will soon rise to one quarter. At a global level, the number of people with disabilities has already exceeded one billion. As such, there is also a wealth of business potential in the development of accessible solutions.

But how can we create technologies and services that serve as diverse a range of users as possible? The obvious answer is by involving and also employing as many different types of people as possible in product and service development. Doing so also requires us to create inclusive work environments and cultures that are committed to promoting diversity.

Deputy Mayor Sinnemäki highlighted Helsinki’s potential as a pioneer

Helsinki and Finland are now garnering a great deal of international interest in the field of mobility, said Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment Anni Sinnemäki. One of the main reasons for this is the Mobility as a Service approach. Another is the fact that in Finland, attitudes and legislation are quite permissive in regard to taxi services, electric scooters and shared use, for example.

“When it comes to new mobility services, the question we need to ask is whether they are immediately accessible to everyone,” the deputy mayor posited. “The aim is to avoid having to re-tread the decades-long path that traditional transport has taken.”

If we can find equally functional solutions for improving the equality and accessibility of smart mobility – thanks to the attention garnered in the smart mobility sector – such solutions will not go ignored by the rest of the world.

“It is still possible to create new mobility solutions from the ground up in a way that takes everyone into consideration,” she encouraged.

Inclusive working culture invites participation and provides more diverse results

Taking different needs into account starts with the people working in the sector. This was the topic of the keynote speech delivered by the founder of Inklusiiv ry, Katja Toropainen, at the event.

In Finland, women account for less than 20% of the workforce in the transportation sector. This is in and of itself a clear diversity problem. Moreover, a situation like this is typically self-sustaining. People do not seek out or stay in homogeneous work communities if they feel that they represent a clear minority in the community.

Teams must include a diverse range of people if they wish to attract a diverse range of employees in the future as well, Toropainen emphasised. Doing so promotes a sense of belonging, of inclusivity. It is important for organisations to commit to creating an inclusive work culture. What helps in this are diverse role models who defy stereotypes, which can also be subtly highlighted.

It was also noted at the event that one of the reasons the transportation sector needs diverse work cultures is because they develop services that take diversity into consideration more comprehensively.

In the panel discussion held at the event, Executive Director of the Finnish Traffic and Transport Planning Association Tanja von Knorring called attention to the transportation sector’s gender distribution, low visibility of sexual minorities and the training of personnel to handle encounters with different types of people. When using transport services, people are also often asked to specify their gender for no real reason, with the only options often being male/female. 

Immigration increases the availability of labour, rural flight necessitates creativity in the transportation sector

When it comes to diversity, there is at least one area in which the transportation sector is doing fairly well: immigrants are fairly well represented on the blue-collar side of the transportation sector, though much less so on the white-collar side. One of the issues behind this is lack of language skills, says Tenure Track Professor Heikki Liimatainen from Tampere University. In Finland, people working in public sector transportation services are still expected to be proficient in Finnish. But is language proficiency always actually necessary?

Additionally, Liimatainen opened discussion about the availability of transportation services using the concept of ‘transport poverty,’ which is used by his research team. The differing availability of transport services due to financial and location-related reasons in particular results in inequality. Having little or no means of travelling from place to place can even facilitate social exclusion. This societal aspect of transportation is something that we should all be aware of.

The social impacts of transportation have also been recognised by the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), whose Director of Business Development Marko Mäki-Hakola talked about how the agricultural advocacy organisation has embraced the transformation of the transportation sector with the All Aboard project. The project was made possible by Finland’s new Act on Transport Services, which allows different modes of transport to be combined more freely, potentially increasing the efficiency of existing services. These types of smart mobility solutions can help people get by without a car even in rural areas, thus solving transportation challenges affecting large numbers of people.

Freedom of movement is a basic human right, but not always guaranteed in practice

Freedom of movement is basic human right and one of the prerequisites for social participation, remarked Amu Urhonen, chair of the KIOS Foundation, in her keynote speech. It is important for the wellbeing of society as a whole that everyone is able to get out of their homes and move about freely.

While Urhonen’s speech focused in particular on people with physical disabilities, she also identified accessibility as a comprehensive right relevant to all kinds population groups. In fact, accessibility is a more multi-faceted concept than many people realise and can be divided into physical, psychological and social accessibility.

While some aspects of accessibility can be improved via attitudes that welcome diversity, others require more concrete measures. A bus that cannot accommodate a wheelchair cannot be changed with attitudes alone, Urhonen noted.

Although accessibility does partly consist of these kinds very concrete physical things, that does not meant that the issue is resolved once a ramp, for example, is built. Instead, accessibility is present in everyday life as a continuous process and requires the entire service path to be accessible. There is no point in a person with a physical disability embarking on a journey if at some point along the line it becomes inaccessible.

The lively discussion about accessibility proved that there is still much to achieve – and great potential in doing so

The last leg of the Smart Mobility Belongs to Everyone event was a panel discussion on accessibility. The topic inspired a great deal of discussion among both the panellists and members of the audience, who were able to participate in the discussion via the Screen.io participation tool.

Amu Urhonen shared some negative experiences and emphasised how they can hinder the implementation of new services. On the other hand, there are also some good examples of accessibility, such as Onnibus, which proves that even a market-based transportation service can still be both affordable and accessible. Urhonen also reminded listeners that it is less costly for society to invest in functional and accessible public transport service than to transport everyone with physical disabilities using taxis.

Mirjam Heikkinen from the City of Helsinki shared experiences of the online Service Map of the Helsinki area, which has assembled a great deal of information on the accessibility of public services. Over the years, the Service Map has become a major depository of information about public services in the Helsinki region, in which accessibility information plays a major role.

The Service Map application allows organisations to add their own accessibility information. The information must be provided in a standardised format and made accessible to others via an open API. The possibility of combining the information with other data sources also facilitates the development of smart solutions.

In addition to city level, accessibility is being improved at legislative and EU levels as well. The Ministry of Transport and Communications will soon be publishing an interim report on the implementation of the national action programme for accessibility, said Sini Wirén, director of the Unit for Basic Services, in the panel discussion.

The Ministry’s task as regards the action programme is to take accessibility perspectives into consideration in legislative projects. The Ministry also funds training courses and research related to the promotion of accessibility. The EU, meanwhile, is now actively developing and improving the accessibility of rail transport, for example.

However, instead of just trains, for example, it is important to focus on the entire travel chain – both in terms of users and the mobility as a service approach. This was the perspective emphasised by Terhi Tamminen, accessibility expert and managing director of Avaava Oy. Avaava’s merits include participation in the preparation of a report on the accessibility of the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) operating model.

MaaS service providers should have a comprehensive picture of the travel chain as a whole. Meanwhile the providers of the individual services that make up the travel chain should understand the accessibility aspect and that it is important to engage in cooperation with various cooperation parties.

When accessibility is integrated into planning from the very start, it serves as a quality guarantee and is no more expensive than any other product development process, Tamminen emphasised. It is also important to get as many user groups as possible to participate in planning. This makes it possible to create high-quality and attractive services for everyone. When the ageing of the population is taken into account, the massive business potential related to accessibility solutions increases even further.

Smart mobility actors have begun to embrace diversity – what’s next?

The amount of discussion kindled at the Smart Mobility Belongs to Everyone event would seem to indicate that these are topical and important issues. Diversity, equality and accessibility should be actively promoted, particularly now with the emergence of so many new mobility services.

The organisers of the event are already in the process of planning follow-up measures. If you have measures or ideas of what you could do to promote these issues, please do not hesitate to contact:

 

Further information

Raimo Tengvall

Project Manager


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Mobile: +358 40 629 7744
raimo.tengvall(at)forumvirium.fi