Vulnerable target users, such as children, elderly or unemployed citizens, were asked to participate in focus groups in the six local study regions in order to see how innovative transport solutions fit to them and the areas they live in. As well, it allowed to understand to which degree these innovations might affect their mobility behaviour. A closer look was given for example at Fairfahrt and Boleia, two ridesharing/carpooling platforms; Bummelbus and Local Link, publicly contracted mobility solutions in rural areas and PickMeApp, a door-to-door ride-hailing service. As most of the services or similar services are not accessible in each of the study regions, participants had to imagine, based on descriptions they got from a HiReach partner, if they would be willing to use the specific services presented.
Several common and controversial takeaways were identified:
- Services whose implementation is likely to become more successful are the ones that require a better organization of public transportation in sparsely populated areas, with a strong management role of public authorities. This is the case for the Irish Local Link, which offers one inclusive mobility solution for vulnerable groups and passengers with reduced mobility. The combination between a fixed line minibus service and additional flexible services was a success among the participants of the focus groups.
- A lack of trust in ride-sharing and carpooling was observed among elderly people, women and especially in regions like Italy, where the use of ride-sharing and carpooling platforms, like Boleia and Fairfahrt is not very common. Furthermore, the participants often rated the tested mobility solutions as inflexible. This was also the case for the on-demand bus-service Bummelbus, which participants working in Luxembourg declared as being more useful for children and elderly people due to a more flexible schedule in contrast to people who are working.
- App-based solutions faced a lack of acceptance from the elderly, as payment methods and smartphone technology often overwhelmed the users. They are more skeptical about the live-tracking technology provided by PickMeApp, either through the customer‘s smartphone or via an electronic tracking bracelet. However, in Greece, this tracking device helped to build trust between the transport provider, the users and their families. Overall, PickMeApp was perceived as a sound solution with a very high potential. However, it is a solution whose take up could work very well in some countries and have much less impact on other ones.
- Services that hold a different format and are based upon new technology developments, requiring digital acquaintance to be used, essentially compete, rather than integrate, with current public transport operators. One refers to Fairfahrt, a service which is regarded as novel for the local context and tends to be rejected by some social layers which are more reluctant to experiment something new. Whilst migrants recently arrived to Germany are keen on experiencing this service, elderly people seem to reject it as not suitable for their needs.
The common feature of all analysed mobility services is the user-centric approach, which HiReach identified as essential for the success of any of these alternatives to traditional public transport. It can pave the way for the ideation of new services and trial demonstrations. It can also trigger a reflection about the ideal contextual framework for every type of service and the identification of the target groups that could welcome better solutions. Furthermore, HiReach has emphasized that a strong but balanced cooperation between public partnerships and the communities are essential for a successful integration of transport solutions. On the other hand, if trust in the newly established services are lacking, because of various reasons such as unpunctuality, inelasticity or insecurity, vulnerable groups like children or the elderly are hesitant to use modern services.
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