Ever since the Independent Living Movement began to emerge in the 1960s to empower people with disabilities, more and more of the world has become accessible. Subways and metro stations remain a problem. Someone in a wheelchair often has no way of knowing what obstacles await — until now.
Meet the Russian social enterprise, Metro4All. It's looking for people in American cities interested in helping to map every metro system and fix that problem.
Metro4All was founded by Maxim Dubinin in Moscow a few years ago as a social good project of his interactive mapping company, NextGIS. The Metro4All project creates web and mobile apps that give people with limited mobility point-to-point directions on using their subway system.
So far, Metro4All has apps for 14 cities in Russia and other countries in Europe. There are no apps yet for U.S. cities.
The apps don't reduce the number of barriers in transit stations. They do help people find different possible routes between the entrance to one metro station and the exit from another, and find out which barriers one will encounter at each route. Actually, lots of subway commuters are benefiting from the apps.
Of course they are useful for people in wheelchairs, but they're also helpful for people with strollers, and commuters carrying heavy and oversized luggage. Sometimes you want to know the number of stairs you'll need to navigate.
Metro4All is actually a collaboration of people in different countries interested in addressing mass transit accessibility. It is now a diverse international group with team members in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and the U.S. Tech for good often knows no geopolitical boundaries.
Metro4All has a single paid staff coordinator and lots of volunteers. Basically, its process is as follows.
The people at Metro4All like working with local disability services organizations best. No technical expertise is needed — just someone interested in working on the project.
They have also worked with socially minded IT groups, for instance, people interested in hackathons or open data. Their projects in Moscow, Minsk, and Warsaw had partners of this type. So far, their attempts to work with government transportation authorities have failed.
The biggest part of the project is to map and record data on each metro station. Metro4All estimates that a 100-station metro system takes about 3 weeks to collect the data and create the app. Usually five or six people team up to do the data collection. Each station takes on average a half hour to two hours to map.
As the work entails creating a schematic drawing for each station, a Metro4All trainer needs to come and train its partners in person. Metro4All asks partners to cover the trainer's travel and other essential costs, which are between $5,000 and $10,000. Metro4All can help with fundraising by providing illustrations and technical information for a grant proposal.
When I asked Maxim Dubinin the inevitable sustainability question, he said that he worked as a techie for a Russian NGO for six years before starting his own company. He explains further:
"After I started NextGIS, we did many social projects like election mapping, a database on orphanages, and a conservation mapping project. We are interested and engaged in the international community mapping movement. We use our experience in projects like Metro4All for creating other commercial navigation app services. The idea of Metro4All was expressed by Ilya Zverev of OpenStreetMap originally and we than put it into practice. I had no experience with accessibility, but the service is very useful. We started in Moscow, and when they saw it, people from other cities wanted a Metro4all app for their city. It doesn't cost us very much to do this work, so we can keep doing it."
The web apps for Moscow, Kiev, or Amsterdam are good ones to showcase the service.
If you would like to get going on an accessibility app for your city's metro system, visit the Add Your City page on Metro4All's website to find out more.
Image 1: Arnold Reinhold / CC BY-SA
Image 2: Ingolf / CC BY-SA
Images 3 and 4: Metro4All
Image 5: Daniel Foster / CC BY-NC-SA
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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