The very idea of creating a roadmap to inclusivity in micromobility could be seen by some as slightly ironic. The fact is that if we actually had roads mapped out in a way that catered for all citizens’ needs, then issues around inclusion in transport would be slimmed down significantly. However, our roads and urban design are far from providing access for all, and so a roadmap it is, and one that focuses on the fundamentals: that the micromobilty sector is at risk of excluding rather than including a wide sector of society.
What is inclusive mobility?
The quickest way to understand inclusivity in micromobility is to apply a rule that most of us grew up with when learning road safety: stop, look and listen. As our industry grows at speed, we need to stop and take stock of those we are leaving behind; look at those who are not gaining access to the micromobility sector; and then listen to the experts’ views on why this is happening and how to remedy it. Because the answers are many and multi-layered, which is why our starting point at Voi has been to commission an in-depth Micromobility for All report.
Giving access to all
One of the first things that the report discusses is the difference between accessibility and inclusivity. The former refers to the fact that all citizens should benefit from the same level of access to opportunities, wherever they live and regardless of their socio-economic profile. Access to all is, in fact, just a necessary first step towards building inclusive mobility. At Voi, we have chosen inclusiveness as a keyword in our roadmap because we want to see an even bigger picture of inclusion.
Inclusion for people with disabilities, visual and hearing impairment
As part of our safety and sustainability commitment, we believe that respecting the needs of all people is key to growing not only the micromobility sector but also the trust of cities where we operate. In particular, we must listen to and learn from people with physical disabilities, visually-impaired or blind people, deaf or hearing-impaired people and people with cognitive disabilities.
This collaboration will not only help us create or keep striving to develop accessible vehicles, but also generate trust amongst all non-users. At Voi we are working with many different access experts, from urban planners to disability charities, such as having our parking racks redesigned with the expert input of the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB). As a result, the new racks have extended and raised side panels as well as strong colour contrasts, so that people walking with the assistance of a cane can locate and avoid scooter racks more easily.
Being proactive and reactive when it comes to inclusivity
It is also crucial not to wait for communities to raise their concerns, but to be proactive rather than simply reactive. By engaging with community groups and all stakeholders from the outset, or indeed well before we even start to operate in a given town or city, we facilitate a trusted, inclusive dialogue early on. As a result, we can address any issues or concerns and quickly identify solutions.
By engaging in early inclusive dialogue to date, we have already been able to implement significant changes to local services. These include: identifying new drop-off points for vehicles and parking locations; removing any locations deemed unsafe by local charities; tackling incorrect parking with our ‘Parking Photo’; and implementing our three-strike policy.
In the UK, for example, in June 2021 we were the first e-scooter company to pilot e-scooter sounds in three of our major cities (Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool). The ‘low hum’ sound, aimed at making the e-scooter more audible for hearing-impaired people, similar to that used on electric cars over the last few years, in order to make them more audible.
Creating an accessible website
In addition, we have created an accessible website provision, with a button that allows users to cater for their needs, such as opting for (‘seizure safe profile’, ’vision impaired profile’, ‘cognitive disability profile’, ‘ADHD friendly profile’, ‘blind users (screen-reader)’ and many more.
Providing a tailored service with more meaningful involvement
The next stage on our inclusivity roadmap is to invest in providing a tailored service. It takes time to truly understand the specific needs of each community we serve, and then apply inclusive practices to our fleet placement and pricing structures. But dedicating this time is key to creating barrier-free mobility. One barrier that we are intent on breaking is that of territorial inequity, ensuring that we service a fair and equal geographical spread. For example, we recently addressed this in Cambridge where, In response to residents’ requests in Barnwell, we extended our service into this otherwise underserved area when it comes to transport.
Similarly, Oxford recently extended the areas in which we can operate Voi e-scooters to include the historic centre of the city. Although this is not traditionally an area that is underserved in terms of public services, it does mean that more people from the surrounding less well served areas now have more inclusive access to Oxford’s main train station.
Developing this tailored service approach further, our third step towards attaining inclusivity is to invite meaningful, long-term involvement at grassroots level. Throughout the global pandemic, we have repeatedly heard the phrase ‘The new normal’. However, the old normal wasn’t inclusive for many. So it’s important to us at Voi that we always engage with marginalised and often forgotten groups, and learn from the mistakes of the past to solve the problems of the future.
Social equity as a pillar of sustainability in transport
There is no doubt that the growth of the micromobility sector has been stratospheric over the last few years. However, we may have been guilty of focusing on the early adopters in our excitement to make e-scooters a feature of urban transformation, and our eventual desire to facilitate 15-minute cities. However, now it’s time to dig deeper and take greater responsibility for the role we can play in promulgating social inclusivity. Sustainability is simply not sussed without it.
Affordability is central to social equity and, at Voi, we have created Discount Passes to cater for people with varied economic circumstances, including those on low income, NHS staff, emergency workers and students. During the height of lockdown we also created free passes for NHS staff and emergency workers, with over 11,000 people benefiting from 340,000 free trips during the height of the pandemic. We will continue to assess and address affordability issues as part of our mission to provide a more tailored service.
Addressing the gender gap in micromobility
It is also worth noting that there is also a gender gap in micromobility, with 30% of UK Voi riders identifying as female. One reason for this, according to the report, is that women are more likely than men to suffer from ‘transport poverty’, saving their resources for household expenses. Another key is safety. In February 2021, Voi joined Women in Transport to help address such issues and one of our collaborative projects is an in-depth research project to address this gender gap in micromobility. For more details on this research read our blog ‘Voi takes lead on gender equity in micromobility research’.
We hear you on the road to mobility justice
To aim towards a genuine social equity in transportation, however, we cannot do it alone. It’s only by having a meaningful engagement with councils, local charities, community advisory groups and also our competitors, that we can tailor an equitable service. We need everyone to roll down the roadmap with us on this one and our doors are always open to amplify and diversify this dialogue in a way that shows leadership not only in the micromobility sector, but in the transport sector as a whole.
Some may say that this is taking the roadmap too much off-piste, or that it might slow down the journey. But at Voi, we don’t agree. We don’t want to take shortcuts or indeed shortchange our cities and, consequently, we believe that we have started to pave the way toward a more equitable service for all.