Expert yet vulnerable: Understanding the needs of transit dependent riders to inform policy and design
Transportation is a crucial resource that links people to jobs, social networks, community and services. The transit dependent -- those who do not own private vehicles -- occupy a unique position. They are expert in their knowledge of public transportation while vulnerable to the failures and limitations of transit. This paper presents the results of a study that is aimed at understanding the lived experience of transit dependent riders. Using a framework of structuration theory as an analytic lens, we provide a thematic analysis of qualitative data including interviews with socially connected groups of people and video diaries. The results demonstrate the expertise that transit dependent riders have about transit and its policies and how they deploy that expertise in productive and cunning ways to make the system work for them. The analysis of this data resulted in three categories of agency to consider when designing for vulnerable populations: resourcefulness, reciprocity and powerlessness. The paper concludes by advocating for a human-centered approach to designing systems in community informatics and offers a set of guiding questions for designers of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to consider, especially with regards to vulnerable populations.
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