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The Travel Behavior of People with Disabilities in the Era of Ridehailing


People with disabilities use app-based ridehailing services, like Uber and Lyft, much less than the general population. In this research, I investigate why this may be the case, and otherwise explicate the travel behavior of people with disabilities in the era of ridehailing. Understanding the travel behavior of underrepresented groups is important for crafting nuanced, effective policies that serve the interests of a diverse public. I contribute to the empirical and theoretical literature on the role of disability in travel behavior and associated phenomena, including health, and address policy implications for professionals tasked with ensuring that transportation systems are accessible to people with disabilities.

The dissertation is structured as follows: First, in Chapters 1 and 2, respectively, I introduce my research and review relevant literature on disability and transportation in contemporary contexts. I then present three chapters documenting original studies in which I answer specific research questions related to the travel behavior of people with disabilities in the era of ridehailing. I conclude the dissertation by drawing implications from my findings for policy and planning practice looking ahead, and by offering future directions for research.

In Chapter 3, I investigate trends in the travel behavior of people with disabilities, specifically their use of conventional taxicabs and app-based ridehailing, using data from the 2017 U.S. National Household Travel Survey. I find that people with disabilities use app-based ridehailing at a much lower rate than the rest of the population. This is partly because people with disabilities are older, have lower incomes, and live less in larger cities. But even when controlling for these factors, having a disability predicts lower app-based ridehailing use, suggesting these new services may not be sufficiently accessible to people with disabilities.

How and why are people with disabilities using app-based ridehailing? I answer this question in Chapter 4. Using data from 32 in-depth interviews that I conducted with San Francisco Bay Area residents with disabilities, I explore what factors enable and hinder people with disabilities’ transportation use. I find that attitudes towards and use of app-based ridehailing services depends on respondents’ prior experience using transportation and smartphones. Older adults and those who acquired disabilities later in life had difficulty using ridehailing because of perceived and experienced challenges hailing a ride using an app, finding the vehicle, and getting to their destination independently. Younger adults and those who had lived with their disabilities longer perceived ridehailing to be reliable and convenient, and found it relatively more affordable than conventional taxis. This was also true among respondents who used motorized wheelchairs, but they said that the availability and quality of wheelchair-accessible ridehailing services are presently lacking.

In Chapter 5, I again draw from my interview data to examine how people’s experiences socializing while using transportation affect their travel behavior and health. I find that respondents’ experiences interacting with others in transit influenced determinants of health including self-efficacy, stress, and perceived social isolation and connectedness. I also find that people with disabilities may change their travel behavior in response to feelings about transportation-related social interaction. Individuals with low transportation self-efficacy or who have experienced stressful interactions may limit travel. This might pose a health risk by contributing to feelings of perceived isolation. Difficulties completing transportation-related social tasks and related health consequences may be especially pronounced among individuals who acquired disabilities relatively recently and/or in old age. Individuals with high transportation self-efficacy or who feel socially connected while traveling may travel more. This might promote health.

I conclude the dissertation in Chapter 6 by explaining how my results can inform planning for disability accessibility in the era of ridehailing and beyond. Specifically, I describe what my findings suggest for the development of accessible ridehailing policies and partnerships. I outline broader issues in accessible transportation planning that emerged from my research as well as implications of these issues for policymakers and planners. These matters include meeting the needs of older adults—those over age 65—with disabilities, and providing accessible transportation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I suggest future directions for research on the travel behavior of people with disabilities in contemporary contexts, and finally, summarize my findings on the ridehailing use of people with disabilities and call on researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to seek greater understanding of barriers and facilitators to using transportation among people with disabilities.

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