One of the predicted benefits of self-driving vehicles (SDVs) is improved mobility and access for those unable to drive. The extent to which this happens, however, will depend not just on marketplace competition, but also on public policy decisions that ensure an equitable transportation system.
This is the conclusion of a new analysis by Frank Douma, director of the State and Local Policy Program (SLPP) at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Adeel Lari, director of innovative financing at SLPP; and Kory Andersen, graduate student in urban and regional planning. The research was conducted under the Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness Program, which is led by SLPP.
Volunteer drivers are a key component of human services transportation in Minnesota. They provide low-cost transportation for trips ranging from non-emergency medical appointments to general errands. Most of the organizations that use volunteer drivers are located in small towns or rural areas where dedicated transit services do not exist. But changing demographics and the rise of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft could put many volunteer driving programs at risk, according to a new U of M study.
The project, funded by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access, examined volunteer driver programs in Minnesota. The objectives were to learn which organizations use volunteer drivers, how they organize and fund their volunteer driver programs, and what challenges and barriers they face.
Traveling alone in an unfamiliar environment can be challenging for visually impaired pedestrians, largely because there is not enough information available to them to support decision making. For U of M researchers, helping these pedestrians overcome such challenges is a top priority.
“To improve mobility, access, and confidence in the transportation system, it is important to remove not only the physical barriers but also the information barriers that can impede mobility for people who are visually impaired,” says Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory. In previous work, Liao developed the Mobile Accessible Pedestrian System (MAPS), which uses smartphone technology to provide location and signal timing information to visually impaired pedestrians.
Liao’s latest project, sponsored by the Roadway Safety Institute, aims to improve the app’s accuracy and reliability by developing a “self-aware” infrastructure system—one that can monitor itself and ensure the information it’s providing is up to date, even in a GPS-unfriendly environment.
A recent article in the Star Tribune described how smartphones and a variety of apps are liberating the blind and visually impaired, allowing them to do everything from making calls with voice commands to identifying currency.
Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory and a researcher with the Roadway Safety Institute (RSI), is using a smartphone app to help visually impaired pedestrians with navigation.