Everyone included: tackling the digital gap


18 May
09:00 to 10:30
Hall 3, Level +1

Is digitalisation good for all? Can digitalisation in transport lead to exclusion? What solutions and possible policies are there to bridge an increasing “digital divide” in the transport world?

These were some of the questions explored in this session.

A so-called “digital divide” can exist, develop or be aggravated when certain groups of people or individuals either:

  • Do not have access to technology - whether this may be due to availability or cost issues;
  • Do not have the ability to navigate technology - whether this is due do physical or cognitive disability;
  • Do not have awareness of how digital or algorithmic systems work and thus may feel a lack of agency or trust.

A digital divide exists today. It is caused mainly by digitalisation that is driven by efficiency and cost considerations but not by people’s needs. Often designs are not user-friendly, intuitive or easy to navigate for broad segments of the population. Sometimes digital solutions even penalise those who do not have access to them (e.g. through increased ticket prices), whether underlying reasons are due to physical disability, cognitive disability or income. This can push some users to abandon the use of services such as public transport. In other cases, digitalisation can have unwanted effects on the working conditions of drivers. They can make drivers dependent on services for which fees increase. The size of the digital gap and the size of affected population groups is difficult to estimate. However, most people will have already experienced difficulty with technology that prevented them from making the choices intended; and as younger generations become older, they will also be increasingly affected given continuous and rapid technological developments and an erosion of their own cognitive and physical abilities.

On the other hand, digital solutions can help alleviate undesired outcomes of digitalisation and the digital divide. For example, drivers of informal transport services have started hacking ride-sourcing apps so that they do not unduly penalise drivers. Screen readers can help translate visual information into non-visual form for the visually impaired, as long as underlying (phone) applications are designed adequately.

Policy makers need to ensure that technology provides solutions and fosters opportunities rather than create challenges and divide. This will start with raising awareness and developing an understanding of the challenges that people may face. Working upfront with physically disabled, cognitive impaired, or other people who otherwise risk being excluded from digital services is essential. Regulation needs to ensure physical and digital accessibility is taken into account in design processes; also, international standards can help ensure the right design of digitalised products and services. And education systems should include training for digital skills and savviness across all population groups.

Above all, people must be put first in digital service design processes. Time and time again, experience and evidence show that designing digital and other systems for those with the greatest needs helps not just them, but all. Often the right technological solutions already exist and are ready to be rolled out more globally. However, sometimes the best solution may just be to enable human interaction again, to regenerate confidence in services and ensure their use. 


Binyam Reja

Global Practice Manager & Acting Global Director for Transport

World Bank

Ann Frye


Ann Frye Ltd

Marc Workman


World Blind Union

Andrea San Gil León


Agile City Partners & Global Partnership for Informal Transportation

Harald Neerland