The Deployment of the Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Abilities (MAPCD) Study in Columbus, Ohio Offered Lessons on Developing Transit Solutions for Travelers with Cognitive Disabilities.
Primarily funded by the USDOT’s Smart City Challenge, the Smart Columbus Program is a collection of eight transportation, mobility and data studies aimed at improving access to jobs, enhancing tourism, stimulating the economy, connecting residents to safe and reliable transportation, and supporting efficient and sustainable movement of people and goods throughout Columbus. The Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities (MAPCD) study sought to transition users from paratransit services to independent travel and provide caregivers with an interface to create routes for travelers. It used an accessible smartphone app, AbleLink Smart Living Technologies’ WayFinder app, with multimedia prompts to provide customized turn-by-turn navigation of public transit systems with other support features for users. The WayFinder app was developed through funding from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has continued to be enhanced as part of USDOT’s Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI). The MAPCD study's WayFinder application was deployed in April 2019 and monitored through use by 31 travelers and 27 caregivers. The deployment period concluded in March 2020.
The lessons learned from the deployment of the MAPCD are summarized based on feedback from quizzes, satisfaction surveys, questionnaires, interviews and focus groups of participants who engages with the WayFinder application. Furthermore, the application usage and trip details were recorded for each generated trap. Finally, mobility experts were utilized to provide feedback on the utility and feasibility of the application.
- Right size the application of systems engineering practices to help with efficient delivery of projects, especially in the case where there are known solutions available. For example, MAPCD utilized a wayfinding application previously developed by USDOT through its ATTRI grants, which allowed the team to focus on enhancing of the application and integrating the solution into the specific MAPCD use case.
- Coordinate with transit agencies to ensure access to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). Widespread adoption (and therefore sustainability) will require coordination with transit agencies to support proper navigation through imported GTFS feeds. For example, the capability to use bus arrival time data from the Trip Updates GTFS feed was implemented to provide WayFinder users with bus arrival information within their WayFinder route.
- Expand the recruitment pool of participants to include travelers reliant on caregivers in private-vehicles. The MAPCD project was originally intended to reduce COTA paratransit expenditures by shifting existing paratransit users that used door-to-door services to fixed-route bus service supported by the WayFinder app. However, while the project attempted to recruit existing paratransit users, none were willing to participate, possibly indicating hesitancy around change or new technology. This could also inform future marketing and training efforts.
- Develop a replete training program that is flexible to accommodate participants’ varying degree of experience both with smartphones and transit. In this project, based on the participants’ experience and level of familiarity, some content was added to familiarize travelers with smartphone use while certain training topics were eliminated. Additionally, it is also important to have travel training professionals from human services agencies in the training program to maximize the effectiveness of technologies such as WayFinder.
- Continuously engage all stakeholders throughout the duration of the study. The original use case for the MAPCD study was transitioning paratransit customers to fixed route navigation, however, engagement with study participants and stakeholders revealed that the much greater potential benefit was in autonomy and increased ability for self-guidance in fixed-route transit environments. Continuously working with stakeholders revealed the true needs of the study population and how the study could best benefit these individuals.