Old and disabled missing out on mobile travel tech  


More people need to be encouraged to use apps to improve their public transport experience

The vast majority of older and disabled people are failing to take advantage of the benefits of digitised travel services via smartphones, a new study has shown.

‘Meeting the Needs of Older and Disabled Travellers’, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and ITS UK, highlights that over 80% of the over 60s would not use journey planning websites, apps or text messages that can give them valuable travel information to significantly improve their journey. The report stated that this is a missed opportunity, and calls for a fresh approach to developing and marketing these technologies to this group.

The report highlights that there is little or no awareness among older and disabled people of the potential benefits of travel information services delivered to smartphones. Smartphones and apps can give users up to date information on their travel and enable them to make decisions based on their individual needs. But despite the ever increasing use of data to produce fast responsive transport information, because of the slow uptake of smart technologies among older and disabled people, a large proportion of this group is missing out on the benefits this data can bring to their lives, the report finds.

Indeed, a joint IET and ILC report, published in July 2015, highlighted that more than half (57%) of 80 to 84 year olds have no internet access. It also highlighted that the over 65s in the UK currently spend around £2.2 billion per week on goods and services.

Sahar Danesh, principal policy advisor at the IET, said: “Over recent years our public transport system has benefitted from improvements to the physical infrastructure and service provision. The rapid growth in new technologies represents an even bigger opportunity to improve people’s experience of public transport. If we can find a way to encourage older and disabled people to embrace this technology, many of them could enjoy fully independent travel instead of being housebound or relying on relatives and carers as they do today. The potential implications for their quality of life – and for the economy – are huge.

“There are all kinds of technology solutions that could really transform the travelling experience of older and disabled people, and yet they are not being used,” continued Danesh. “Intelligent Transport Systems have the potential to connect data from different transport modes in order to provide an all-encompassing plan for a journey. The passenger is at the heart of a journey and much more should be done to make technology accessible to all users. Uncertainty about any aspect of travel can often deter an older or disabled person from making a trip.”

He warned: “If we fail to tackle this we risk excluding disabled and older people from basic human rights of independence, mobility and social inclusions.”

Meanwhile, Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity, Scope, said: “Disabled people still face a huge digital divide. This has a significant social and financial impact. Better access to modern technology could transform disabled people’s lives, by supporting them to live more independently, and to access services on equal terms. For example, journey planning websites and apps can provide information about access and assistance, supporting disabled people to get out and about. Access to the internet is also vital to being a savvy shopper.

“Many of the tools used to compare the best consumer deals and offers are found online,” added Dunster. “But not all web content or modern technology is accessible or compatible with assistive technology. The law is unclear how far service providers must go in making their websites accessible. Scope believes a review of the law on website accessibility for disabled people is now vital.”

Stated Simon Bottery, director of policy and external relations at Independent Age, the older people’s charity, said: “New technology has the potential to help older and disabled people make much wider use of public transport so we welcome the call for charities, the public, government and the private sector to work more closely together to develop it. Public transport is a lifeline for older people, especially in rural areas where shops and facilities may be further away. Many older people use public transport to travel to the GP or to hospital appointments, and it also helps them to stay connected to family and friends, reducing social isolation.

“It’s vital that older and disabled people, especially those with poor health or on low incomes, are included in the development of new technology, such as apps, to ensure these are affordable and easy to use,” noted Bottery.

The report highlights that full stakeholder engagement is required between industry, travel operators, Government, engineering professionals and users, to enable a joined-up approach to ensuring that technology becomes a greater focus for developing inclusive mobility.

The Government’s current Inclusive Mobility Best Practice Guide offers a platform to help inform what needs to be considered in terms of inclusive approaches but currently includes no reference to technology, said the report.


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