Human-Centered Transport





How people move themselves through space is tied to their economic opportunity, personal health, and the functionality of the city overall.   Historically, transportation has broken down into various modes, categorized as more shared (e.g., public transport) or less shared (e.g., individual car) and more active (e.g., bike) or less active (e.g., individual car). Technology in recent years has led to hybrids such as transportation network companies (e.g., Lyft and Uber involving individual cars with a shared function for carpooling). Technology has also enabled public transport agencies to adapt, with some offering more dynamic services including pick-ups at closer to home or vouchers for transportation network companies to bring them to train stations. Volunteer networks and medical transportation have been on the rise to cater to more specific needs (e.g., older adults, veterans, and those with chronic medical needs such as dialysis). With the increasing variety of options comes an increased likelihood that individual needs for diverse populations will be met.   Emerging technology such as autonomous vehicles has the potential provide further options, but it also could contribute to negative outcomes. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are increasing the ability of transport to become more responsive and adaptive, but all modes must be taken into consideration for an effective transport system.

Transporting people has always involved the following 4 components, and regardless of technology, it will still need to address them.

1. Population diversity – People have a range of income levels, ages, ability levels, and cultural attributes. While income affects what people are able to pay for their transportation, their age may impact their ability to utilize certain options/modes. Disability can play a strong role in which options/modes work for an individual, while culture can impact language and licensing.

2. Integrated modes – Each mode/option has a place in the a “shared spectrum,” indicating its ability to move more/less people through space and its impact on congestion and other effects. Modes/options also have an “activity spectrum” which indicates physical activity and health impacts. In addition, modes/options have an “environmentally-friendly spectrum” pertaining to their emissions and contribution to air quality levels. The concept of mode shift builds in various aspects of these factors, as they often overlap.


3. Geography – Transport serves to get people from one place (i.e., the origin, often the home) to another place (i.e., the destination, often for errands, medical support, employment, or other needs). All modes, then, serve to increase the connectivity between potential origins and destinations.

4. Experience – Transport is more than getting from one place to another; at least, it has the potential to be more. It has the potential to impact stress levels, delays/on time arrivals, and likelihood of injuries/fatalities. It can even impact enjoyment and sense of belonging, to which anyone who has enjoyed a pleasant walk in their neighborhood can attest.

We must think of transport as a cohesive network of options that feed into each other, even as “legs” of a trip. We must unite our concerns for population groups, or we risk an imbalanced approach that helps one and harms another. Effective transport involves a careful balance, a deep understanding of diverse needs, and a solid awareness of where technology is heading.

ComplexCities is in the process of establishing a professional network and pinpointing resources to share for this project.  If you are interested, please contact us.