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RERC-APT 2018-2023

The RERC on Physical Access and Transportation engages consumers, manufacturers, and service providers in designing, using, and evaluating innovative accessible information services, transportation equipment, and physical environments. It examines the use of technology and universal design to support community living and employment for people with disabilities in current and future transportation systems using information technologies, advanced service delivery models, and new vehicle design solutions. The Center uses a research, development, and deployment (RD&D) model to ground its activities in a real-world context.

R1: Advanced Transit Information

This project studies the content and form of information riders with disabilities need and use while traveling in a transit system. Two subprojects on (1) adaptive mobile interfaces for use during travel and (2) planning and advocacy information for future travel demonstrate how historical user data can improve future experiences, and support advocacy and service delivery. The Tiramisu Transit app serves as a testbed for this research.

R2: Enhancing Community Mobility Using Transit Innovations

This project uses a mixed-methods approach to study current gaps in transit service and first/last mile challenges for individuals with disabilities. R2.1 examines flexible transit service delivery models that augment traditional fixed-route transit service. R2.2 studies the usability of shared automated vehicles for people with disabilities. Findings will: (1) identify the benefits and challenges of implementing innovative, flexible transit service models into public transit; (2) inform vehicle manufacturers on automated vehicle designs; and, (3) support Federal rulemaking activities and policies on innovative transit services and vehicles.

DV1: AI Assistance

This project will develop two new technologies to support travel for people with disabilities using AI and universal design. These are (1) context-aware, pre-filtered information within a deployed transit app and (2) artificial intelligence (AI) to support daily travel.

DV2: Next Generation Shared Automated Vehicle Design

This project will create and evaluate designs for shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs) and develop universal design guidelines that can be applied to overcome community mobility and first/last mile travel challenges that older adults and people with disabilities currently experience. It will implement cycles of knowledge transfer from research to commercialization through committed partnerships with large and small SAV manufacturers.

Partners in the Cycle:

Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus

IBM Research – Tokyo (TRL)

Metro21: Smart City Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University

Port Authority of Allegheny County


Society of Automotive Engineers International

Stantec Consulting Services Inc.

Tiramisu Transit LLC

Autonomous Vehicle Manufacturer Consortium:

Ford LogoGeneral Motors LogoToyota LogoLocal Motors logo


RERC-APT 2013-2018


  • Continued to develop, update, and deploy the award-winning Tiramisu, an accessible transit app based on UD concepts that has been downloaded by over 24 thousand users since 2011, accessed well over a million times, and has received mainstream industry (ITSA, 2011), academic (Steinfeld et al., 2011; Zimmerman et al., 2011), and accessibility awards (FCC, 2012).
  • Identified safety and usability problems in low floor buses, implementing solutions on Gillig buses currently operating in Buffalo, and evaluated these new bus designs in service.
  • Conducted usability testing on an independent wheelchair securement system, installed on a full-scale bus simulator. This led to a new Field Initiated Research Project for field-testing, which is currently underway.
  • Developed a prototype software using Python that integrates boarding and alighting times of those with and without mobility impairments to estimate bus dwell-times for different passenger conditions and bus configurations.
  • Published peer-reviewed papers describing the methods and results of our research. Multiple papers have received awards and recognition for technical merit.
  • Trained students and post docs who then assumed tenure track positions (Yale, Syracuse, Singapore Management University, Information Technology University of Lahore, and two at University of Michigan), leading to capacity building at additional schools.
  • Trained others who have entered industry and government career paths (e.g., Apple, Google, Ford, NYC Transit), thereby increasing disability awareness within these organizations.
  • Contributed to Federal rulemaking on ramp slope standards based on our research (NPR, 2012) and the industry-standard GTFS-Realtime (2017) transit information specification.
  • Established an Inclusive Transportation Consulting relationship with Stantec’s Transit Advisory Division.
  • Published the book, Accessible Public Transportation: Designing Service for Riders with Disabilities (Steinfeld et al., 2017), the first comprehensive professional book on this topic.

R1: Transit Communities

This project will focus on using the Tiramisu Transit app as a testbed to evaluate real-time trip information and community dialog. The former will provide a rich data-base for studying the use of transit systems by people with disabilities. The latter will evaluate methods for enabling and empowering transit riders with disabilities and others to increase situation awareness and assume a more active role in the local transit community.

R2: Vehicle Access Simulation

This project will focus on human factors research studies on key accessibility and usability Robotics Institute / RERC on Physical Access and Transportation 14 issues in vehicles that have not yet been studied empirically. This will fill gaps in knowledge identified during the 2008-13 RERC-APT cycle, address new priorities that emerged recently and provide information to develop user-oriented guidelines for product design, selection criteria in vehicle procurement, and input to federal rule making activities.

R3: Physical Access to the Last Mile

This project will complete a series of interviews and surveys with paratransit operators and users to study how vehicle design and operation practices, and usability problems with access to stops (e.g., sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stop and station design) impact mobility decisions and depend-ence on paratransit service. This data will be used to develop more effective paratransit operating practices, standards, and automated data collection tools.

DV1: Multi-Modal Systems

This project will design and develop software systems to help riders with disabilities during trips that require use of more than one mode of transportation, e.g. pedestrian paths to bus stops, transfers between paratransit and bus, etc. These are focused on addressing real-time information needs and increasing travel independence and system efficiency during pedestrian, paratransit, and station/terminal modes through low-cost approaches and crowdsourcing.

In subproject DV1.1, TechBridgeWorld will extend the NavPal Android app to support more independent pedestrian travel by people who are blind or low vision. In DV1.2, the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory will adapt REVAMP to optimize hybrid paratransit-mainline transit trips. Finally, the DV1.3 project will extend Jeffrey Bigham’s expertise on mobile, real-time crowdsourcing to enable riders to obtain timely help while using public transit.

DV2: Next Generation Vehicle Design

This project will continue existing partnerships with bus manufacturers and product manufacturers and form a new partnership with a consortium that has developed an innovative low floor small bus. The project will continue to introduce UD into the development of new prototypes, as well as re-search findings from R1-R3, in order to address high priority needs of transit riders.

Partners In this Cycle:

Access Transportation Systems
Blind & Vision Rehabilitation
Services of Pittsburg(BVRS)
Champion Bus

Dallas Smith Corp.
Easter Seals Project ACTION
Gillig Corporation
IBM Research - Tokyo

Legion Labs
LINC -Design, LLC
Niagara Frontier Transportation
Authority (NFTA)

RERC-APT 2008-2013


  • Developing and deploying the award winning Tiramisu, a new accessible transit app based on social computing concepts that has now been downloaded by over 24 thousand users, ac-cessed over a million times, and has received mainstream industry (ITSA, 2011), academic (Steinfeld et al., 2010; Zimmerman et al., 2011), and accessibility awards (FCC, 2012).
  • The identification of safety and usability problems in low floor buses and initial implementation of solutions on Gillig buses currently operating in Buffalo. We will evaluate these new bus designs in regular daily service prior to completion of the funding cycle.
  • Over 20 peer-reviewed publications describing the methods and results of our research. Multiple papers have received awards and recognition for technical merit.
  • Robotics Institute / RERC on Physical Access and Transportation 12
  • A fact sheet on Universal Design & Accessible Transit Systems: Facts to Consider When Updating or Expanding Your Transit System for Easter Seals Project ACTION that was dis-tributed to over 10,000 transportation practitioners and disability advocates. 
  • Input on Federal rulemaking on ramp slope standards based on our research (NPRM, 2012).
  • The development of two transportation evaluation methods: real-time documentation using smartphones and systematic evaluations using guided tours (Steinfeld et al., 2012).

R1 - Empowering the User to Improve the Travel Chain 

Project leads: Aaron Steinfeld, PhD & John Zimmerman, MDes

This research will identify effective "citizen science" methods to engage riders with disabilities and others in improving public transportation accessibility by documenting and assessing problems and good solutions throughout the system. The goal is to empower riders, resulting in a greater understanding of the transportation system, and improve the feedback loop between rider and provider. These benefits of the citizen science model have been demonstrated in other contexts. The long-range goal of this project is to apply emerging information technology to establish self-sustaining communities of practice that engage in the continuous improvement of transportation technologies and related transit operations. The laboratory experiments (R1.1) and initial community field test (R1.2) within this project will evaluate a demonstration deployment of an accessible prototype system (DV1.1).

R2 - Human Factors of Boarding and Disembarking Vehicles

Project leads: Victor Paquet, PhD, James Lenker, PhD, & Edward Steinfeld, ArchD

This project will organize and develop a comprehensive evidence base on boarding and disembarking public transit vehicles, complete research to address key policy and design issues, and identify new research needs. A multi-method approach will be implemented including a systematic review, focused laboratory experiments, and targeted usability studies. The data collected in this project will be used to develop user requirements for design and evaluation of vehicle features, boarding technologies and products, and design of stops and stations. It will also establish a model for evidence-based practice in this field for the development of policies and standards, design tools, and a demonstration application in Project DV2.

DV1 - Open Information System Tools

Project leads: Anthony Tomasic, PhD & Aaron Steinfeld, PhD

This project will develop software that can be adopted by regional agencies to help people reach their destinations more easily and harness their experiences to improve the system. It will focus on two key functions in accessible transportation: a citizen science public website where riders can share information about where they are having problems and track solutions to problems as they are implemented (DV1.1) and mobile, real-time information access to assist riders in navigating the system (DV1.2). DV1.1 will be deployed and evaluated in parallel with the R1.2 Community Research subproject. Since the functions will utilize common data elements (e.g., routes, vehicles, location, etc), the components will use a common software base and conceptual model to minimize costs related to deployment.

DV2 - Improved Vehicle Interiors, An Industry Partnership Project

Project lead: Edward Steinfeld, ArchD

The Improved Vehicle Interiors Project will develop and test a computer aided design tool that can be used to increase the accessibility of transportation vehicles. The value of the design tool will be tested through development of multimedia reference designs and a Demonstration Bus project with an industry partner, Gillig Corporation. The design tool will be submitted to the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Public Transportation Association as a consensus "Recommended Practice" for use in design of accessible vehicles. The reference design will serve as a guide for companies seeking to incorporate universal design principles in their vehicles. The redesigned bus will be evaluated in use.

Partners In this Cycle:

United Spinal Association
Gillig Corporation
American Seating
Easter Seals Project ACTION

IBM Research - Tokyo
RERC on Universal Design and the
Built Environment
Quality of Life Technologies
Engineering Research Center

Niagara Frontier Transportation
Authority (NFTA)
Port Authority of Allegheny County

Teams in this Cycle:

Aaron Steinfeld, PhD., Carnegie Mellon University
Edward Steinfeld, Arch.D., University at Buffalo

Support Teams:

School of Computer Science/Carnegie Mellon University
Anthony Tomasic, PhD
John Zimmerman, MDes
Charlie Garrod, PhD
Yun Huang, PhD
Ellen Ayoob, MDes
Steve Gardiner, PhD Student
Marynel Vázquez, PhD Student
Jian Li, Masters Student
Shree Lakshmi Rao, Masters Student
Yue Xing, Masters Student
Daniel Ringwalt, Undergraduate Student
Andrew Smith, Undergraduate Student
Agnes Won, Undergraduate Student

IDeA Center/RERC-UD/University at Buffalo
Victor L. Paquet, Sc.D.
James A. Lenker, PhD, OTR/L, ATP.
Jordana Maisel, MUP.
Danise Levine, RA.
Heamchand Subryan, M.Arch/MFA
Clive D’Souza, MS., PhD candidate

Alumni of the RERC:

William Goodale, Undergraduate Student
Jing Huang, Undergraduate Student
Rachel Inman, Undergraduate Student
Regina Son, Undergraduate Student
Yufei An, Masters Student
Xinpan Xiao, Masters Student
Chaya Hiruncharoenvate, MS
Allison Tran, Undergraduate Student

Taylor Raack, Masters Student
Piyush Kumar, Masters Student
Jiseon (Daisy) Yoo, MDes
Hanzhang (Echo) Hu, Undergraduate Student
Jonathan Park, Undergraduate Student
Tim Andriano, BS
Rafae Aziz, Undergraduate Student
Sun Young Park, MDes
Lauren Von Dehsen, Undergraduate Student

Uma Damle, Masters Student
Piyush Bareria, Masters Student
Rahul Aggarwal, Masters Student

Advisory Board:

Cathy Bodine, PhD
Dennis Cannon
Chipper Hazan
Kenneth Lin, AICP

Dominic Marinelli
Linda van Roosmalen, PhD
Douglas J. Usiak, BS IAE