As America strives for a sustainable and efficient public transportation system, it is inexcusable that we often neglect the critical dimension of accessibility and inclusivity, particularly for people with disabilities. Our aspirations to create a climate-friendly public transportation system are woefully incomplete if we do not put accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront. It is unacceptable that people with disabilities are often an afterthought in our planning. As we consider models for an ideal, sustainable transportation system, we often look to Western Europe, marveling at their high-speed rail systems, bike infrastructure or clean energy buses. However, the aspect that demands our utmost attention is their commitment to accessibility for all.
The American with Disabilities Act was revolutionary when it passed and put America at the forefront of disability rights. We’ve come a long way since then, but let’s not delude ourselves: we are far from the finish line. The bare minimum is not enough. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for barely crossing the threshold of legality. We need to raise the bar, learn from the innovative European initiatives like the TRIPS project and the Accessibility and Transportation Summer Program at Ghent University, and radically transform the way we approach mobility in America.
The TRIPS project puts co-design into practice in an impactful way. Co-design bridges the gap between users and designers, fostering an environment of collaboration and mutual understanding. This method has been transformative in Europe. From the design of a new bus stop in Bologna to the development of a transport app in Sofia, people with disabilities have been involved every step of the way. There’s no reason why we cannot replicate this approach in the United States. We need to stop making assumptions about the needs of people with disabilities and start including them in the conversation.
Education also plays a vital role. EIT’s Inclusive Mobility Summer School is a blueprint for how we should approach education in this critical field. The program provides a holistic experience, combining theoretical knowledge with hands-on learning. It’s time we stop relegating accessibility to a footnote in urban planning or engineering programs; we need to follow Ghent’s example and place it front and center.
We can’t ignore the importance of measurement and feedback in improving accessibility. Europe’s Mobility Divide Index (MDI) is not just a theoretical concept; it’s a real, tangible tool that has the power to affect meaningful change. This kind of evaluative tool needs to become a staple in our approach to urban planning. The MDI forms part of the larger European Accessibility Observatory, a hub for collecting and analyzing user feedback to inform decision-making in urban mobility. We must adopt similar data-driven practices.
It’s high time we dropped the complacency. The right to equal access to transport is not a favor we bestow upon people with disabilities; it is a fundamental right, and it’s about time we treated it as such. There’s no room for procrastination. By learning from initiatives like the TRIPS project, EIT Urban Mobility’s Inclusive Mobility Summer School, and tools like the MDI, we can – and must – create a transportation system that truly serves everyone.
We must strive to emulate more than just Europe’s transportation infrastructure; we must aspire to match their dedication to inclusivity and accessibility. The onus is on us to create a transportation system that doesn’t just cater to the majority but ensures accessibility for all.
Accessible transportation systems aren’t just a nice-to-have; they are a must-have. They are about ensuring that every member of society, irrespective of their ability, can access the services they need to live fulfilled lives. This isn’t just a policy issue; it’s a human rights issue. It’s time for us to adopt and adapt these European models, driving toward a future where transportation isn’t just efficient and sustainable, but fundamentally accessible and inclusive.