Estimates by the American Foundation for the Blind (ACB) suggest that there are 10 million blind or visually impaired individuals in the United States (U.S.). Of these, 1.3 million are considered legally blind. (1) Because many among the blind and visually impaired (BVI) cannot drive, access to safe and reliable transportation can be a significant challenge with additional consequences for mobility, quality of life and access to housing and employment.
Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) have emerged as a new mode of travel that has the potential to increase access to transportation for BVI individuals. In 2014, the ACB produced a white paper on TNCs to investigate “how the new products work and the extent to which they meet the needs of ACB’s members.” (2) Additionally, BVI bloggers have lauded the services offered by TNCs, referring to them as “an excellent alternative to public transportation, cabs, hiring personal drivers, and asking for rides from friends.” (3) However, the opportunities and challenges for TNC use by BVI individuals has not been widely studied.
The goal of this research is to use both qualitative and quantitative methods to identify how the BVI community perceives the safety of TNCs relative to other travel modes, and how the BVI community utilizes TNCs for safe mobility. The safety of BVI travelers is difficult to quantify using traditional traffic safety metrics such as crash rates, because they represent a small segment of the total population. There is little data available to determine their relative crash risks across travel modes. Safety for travelers with disabilities on traditional transit and paratransit services has been shown to strongly correlate with familiarity between passengers and their travel providers (4), which suggests a potential for TNCs to serve the unique needs of BVI travelers. On the other hand, TNC providers are not trained (as traditional paratransit providers would be) to handle the special needs of passengers with disabilities, which can negatively affect safety. (3)
The team will design and implement a web survey, which will capture data from the BVI community. The research design will be informed by a strong literature review that focuses not only on BVI safety mobility issues, but also on to what extent TNCs have extended their service model to this community. Throughout the design process, the research team will rely on a BVI expert panel to help ensure that the survey instrument is consistent with not only the project goals, but also in line with the special needs of the community under study. Prior to implementation, the web survey will be qualitatively tested in a focus group in which members of the BVI community will be asked to review and provide comment on the survey.
Partnerships with BVI organizations such as the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will enable the research team to reach out to the members of these organizations as survey participants. The final project report will not only contain the summarized results of the quantitative survey, but will also include perspectives from TNC representatives gleaned via a series of structured interviews. As a means to address to a wider audience, the findings will be summarized in a podcast form for those who prefer this form of media. Furthermore, an educational packet will be generated for use in an academic setting, specifically for educators hoping to help inform students on aspects of research design focused on mobility safety issues among at risk communities.
- Few researchers have focused on how TNCs may address transportation challenges for the visually impaired. Furthermore, no research has been conducted to assess the BVI population’s safety perceptions of TNCs relative to other modes of travel. This research attempts fill this gap.
- The most significant characteristic associated with a respondent feeling safe in a TNC vehicle was a well-trained driver.
- Seventy-two percent of respondents reported using TNCs in the 60-day period prior to the survey.
- Notification of an approaching driver and a cashless payment system were two of the most often mentioned technologies implemented by TNCs that made visually impaired users feel safe.
- TNCs place a fundamental emphasis on technological features, such as real-time location tracking and a cashless payment system, that help overcome issues like identifying and locating the correct vehicle or having to rely on others to find out the bus or taxi fare.
- Respondents who are unfamiliar with TNCs have lower perceptions of their safety.
- The cost of TNCs may be more acute for visually impaired individuals, who may have fewer options than sighted individuals may. TNC companies pointed to lower-cost shared rides as a tool to decrease the expense of TNC use.
EWD & T2 Products
Research Packet (zip file; individual files/types listed below): The Research Packet for this Safe-D project was developed to provide materials that summarize the research, tools, and findings of the project along the survey dataset results. These materials are designed to be used by lecturers to guide an instructor through the material without having to review the complete report. The Research Packet contains the following files aside from this document:
- – Presentation Slide Deck (Microsoft PowerPoint file)
– Final Survey Data (Microsoft Excel file)
– Final Survey Instrument (Microsoft Word file)
– READ ME – Details About Final Survey Data Package (Microsoft Word file)
– Survey Data Reference (Microsoft Word file)
– Web Reference List (Microsoft Word file)
Podcast (website link): TTI researchers Chris Simek and Michelle Plunkett sat down with Eyes on Success Podcast hosts Nancy and Peter Torpey on August 8, 2018 to discuss their research into ride sharing services for the visually impaired and how the experience can be improved. You can download the MP3 recording of this podcast at the link provided.
Research Summit/Webinar/Brown Bag Presentation (pptx): A presentation was given on multiple occasions to various audiences which summarized the research conducted under this project.
Simek, C. (2019, May). Safety Perceptions of Ridesharing Companies by Individuals with Visual Impairment. Methodological brief presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research 74th Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Presented)
Simek, C., Sener, I. N., Moran, M. An Evaluation of the Safety Perceptions of Transportation Network Companies as a Mobility Option for the Visually Impaired Community. Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. (Submitted)
Simek, C. (July 29, 2018). Safety Perceptions of Ridesharing Companies by Individuals with Visual Impairment.
Simek C., Plunkett, M. (August 8, 2018.) How Blind People Use Ride Sharing Services. Eyes on Success Podcast. Available online at: http://www.eyesonsuccess.net/eos_1832_podcast.mp3.
The final dataset for this project is located in the Safe-D Collection on the VTTI Dataverse; DOI: 10.15787/VTT1/5OLPQT
Research Investigators (PI*)
Start Date: 2017-05-01
End Date: 2018-08-31
Grant Number: 69A3551747115
Total Funding: $173,099
Source Organization: Safe-D National UTC
Project Number: 02-010
Safe-D Theme Areas
Safe-D Application Areas
Driver Factors and Interfaces
UTC Project Information Form
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
University Transportation Centers Program
Department of Transportation
Washington, DC 20590 United States
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
College Station, Texas 77843-3135