Fleet Management: Creating an Inclusive Campus Through Accessible Transportation

By providing accessible transportation services such as wheelchair-accessible shuttles and on-demand transit solutions, universities can remove barriers for students with mobility challenges.

Fleet Management: Creating an Inclusive Campus Through Accessible Transportation

Photo: scharfsinn86, Adobe Stock

Universities have a unique — and impactful — responsibility to ensure equal opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities. Universities can demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment by eliminating barriers that might hinder students with disabilities from fully participating in campus life, such as a lack of accessible transportation.

By implementing or improving accessible transportation options, universities can empower students with mobility challenges to successfully navigate the campus more easily, ensuring they can attend classes, engage in extracurricular activities, and access campus facilities without hindrance.

The Importance of University Fleet Accessibility

For many students with mobility challenges, university transit systems are the main — and sometimes only — means of getting around campus for classes and extracurriculars. Universities can promote students’ independence and autonomy through the use of accessible transportation services. According to a University of Washington case study, however, accessible transportation services are often limited to office hours. For students with mobility issues who take night classes, this greatly impacts their ability to succeed in their higher education goals.

Transit scheduling isn’t the only obstacle for students with mobility challenges, though. Not all university fleets have the proper amount of accessible vehicles and supporting infrastructure to meet the demand for service. Incorporating such services as on-demand transportation, wheelchair-accessible shuttles, and adaptive vehicles, as well as implementing autonomous vehicles (AVs), allows students with mobility challenges to navigate the campus.

The freedom to travel independently not only enhances the overall university experience but also fosters essential life skills and confidence in navigating the world beyond academia.

7 Steps to Improve University Transit Accessibility

To create a more inclusive campus environment, universities can take immediate and cost-effective steps to integrate accessibility solutions into their existing fleets, including:

  1. Conducting an audit: A comprehensive fleet audit is an essential first step in understanding how accessible the fleet currently is. This process helps identify existing gaps in the fleet’s accessibility capabilities and surface opportunities for improvement. By taking full inventory of all fleet assets, universities can plan for future updates or upgrades to ensure the entire fleet aligns with accessibility standards and goals.
  2. Consulting with other organizations: Collaboration with disability services offices, student organizations, and transportation experts is crucial when assessing opportunities to better serve students with disabilities. These stakeholders can provide valuable insights into the specific needs and challenges faced by students with mobility challenges. Seeking guidance from accessibility specialists and consultants will ensure that the university fleet meets industry standards and complies with any applicable regulations.
  3. Investing in wheelchair-accessible vehicles: Integrating a sufficient number of wheelchair-accessible shuttles and adaptive vehicles plays a big part in fostering accessibility. These vehicles should be equipped with proper wheelchair securement systems, ramps, and other necessary features to ensure the smooth transportation of students with mobility challenges. It’s also important to perform regular asset inspections and adhere to preventative maintenance standards recommended by the manufacturer to ensure safety and proper functionality.
  4. Enhancing driver training programs: Comprehensive training for drivers on disability awareness, accessible transportation protocols, and passenger assistance techniques plays a key role in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for students with mobility challenges. Proper training ensures that students with mobility challenges feel comfortable and supported during their transportation experience.
  5. Creating on-demand transit solutions: Making accessible transportation available on-demand can provide students with greater flexibility to get where they need to go and when. The University of South Carolina implemented such a program, which works similarly to a ride-share service. Dial-a-Ride-Transit (DART) “is an origin-to-destination, advance reservation, shared-ride transportation service that complements the fixed-route bus services. There are no restrictions on the purpose or frequency of reservations. […] A fleet of small buses provides DART service. Each is equipped with wheelchair lifts and can accommodate four wheelchairs.”
  6. Utilizing technology: Technology is a powerful tool in enhancing accessibility. Integrating mobile apps, scheduling platforms, and real-time tracking systems streamlines transportation services, making them more efficient and accessible. Leveraging technology can significantly improve the overall user experience for students with mobility challenges.
  7. Using a fleet management system: An integrated university fleet management software (FMS) streamlines the process of upfitting the fleet, tracking assets, and managing maintenance. By ensuring the fleet is in optimal condition and available for those who need it most, universities can deliver a reliable and accessible transportation service.

AV Adoption and Accessibility Considerations

The increasing availability of AV technology opens up new opportunities for university fleets to further enhance accessibility. According to On-demand microtransit and paratransit service using autonomous vehicles: Gaps and opportunities in accessibility policy, an article in the official journal of the World Conference on Transport Research Society, however, realizing this potential depends on collaboration between vehicle manufacturers, policymakers, and state and municipal agencies to accommodate the needs of individuals with mobility challenges at different stages of trip making. In short, it’s a long-term goal with long-lasting benefits.

The research in the journal article asserts that when looking into the use of AVs in university fleets, it’s important to consider the complete trip, which can be divided into three distinct categories, each of which involves specific accessibility requirements that must be addressed for a truly inclusive transportation experience.

  • Trip information system: The design of information systems for trip planning and booking must be accessible to all students with disabilities.
  • Accessible infrastructure design: Navigating to and from AV pick-up points should be accessible for all individuals with mobility challenges, which includes such infrastructure design as sidewalks, curbs, ramps, and street crossings.
  • Robotics and automation: Boarding, riding, and disembarking from AVs without human assistance requires careful vehicle design considerations. Wheelchair accessibility, onboard information systems, and haptic feedback mechanisms are essential to support passengers with sensory and cognitive impairments.

While the planning and implementation of AV transportation systems can be quite an investment (and take significant planning), universities can leverage AV technology to enhance the accessibility of their transportation services and provide innovative solutions for students with mobility challenges.

Evaluate Accessibility Needs with FMS

Fleet data is a critical component —regardless of the industry — in measuring and tracking both daily and long-term operational goals, including improving transportation accessibility. Fleet management solutions provide a wealth of data that universities can leverage to make informed decisions around improving accessibility based on a breakdown of fleet assets, asset utilization, routes, asset and driver availability, and more. A fleet solution like integrated FMS further allows universities to dive into routing, scheduling, and budgeting insights by connecting the software with other business solutions.

By providing accessible transportation services such as wheelchair-accessible shuttles, adaptive vehicles, and on-demand transit solutions, universities can remove barriers for students with mobility challenges. Integrating these accessibility solutions into the existing fleet is a proactive step that fosters an inclusive campus culture, promoting independence and autonomy for all students.

As universities strive for a more diverse and welcoming campus, fleet accessibility becomes a powerful means of achieving these goals, allowing every student to thrive and contribute fully to the academic community.

Rachael Plant is a content marketing specialist for Fleetio, a fleet management software company that helps organizations track, analyze and improve their fleet operations.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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