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Speaking at FLOURISH, a self-driving car project in Bristol aimed at improving the mobility of older people and those with mobility-related needs, Future of Mobility Minister Jesse Norman set out that new technologies including self-driving vehicles and the increased use of mobile apps have the potential to revolutionise everyday journeys for people with mobility issues, and this must be a key consideration for those companies developing future transport.

In their ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy, launched in March 2019’, the government declared that transport innovations must be accessible by design in order to empower independent travel, in line with the 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy which stated that advances in technology should provide opportunities for all. The trend towards ride-sharing, for example, will need to cater for users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, as well as those who might not feel comfortable sharing with strangers due to mental health or developmental conditions.

“Self-driving technologies could greatly improve the mobility of vulnerable user groups, helping to address problems of isolation and loneliness across the country,” said Norman.

“The needs of older people, and those with visible or hidden disabilities, must be at the heart of all new modes of transport.”

This announcement follows the arrival of a range of exciting transport innovations, including the first trials of self-driving vehicles for blind veterans in the world. A joint venture launched by Blind Veterans UK and Aurrigo in April, the self-driving pods are equipped with accessible features including bright colour edges, door openings, and an external sounds system that changes tone and rate when objects in the path are detected.

The commitment in the ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy’ builds on wide-ranging work the government has already undertaken to improve accessibility on public transport, including investing £300 million to make rail stations more accessible for disabled passengers across Britain, and pushing transport operators to meet their legal obligations to design and deliver their services in a genuinely inclusive way. This includes showing greater recognition that less visible disabilities such as autism or dementia can be just as much of a barrier to travel as a visible disability.

Miles Garner, Sales and Marketing Director at Aurrigo, said: “Independence, that’s what it is all about. From giving it back to people with a disability to making sure elderly individuals maintain it.”

“That’s why we wholeheartedly welcome the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy and determination to make the entire transport network accessible by 2030. Our driverless pods have a crucial role to play in this, especially in providing first and last mile transport solutions – so crucial to providing a joined-up service.”

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