What much of the discussion on this AV forum seems to be asking for is actually universal accessibility and better transportation overall, for all geographic areas, two issues that are not AV issues as much as pleas for improving the transportation system that currently exists.
We need universal design for the vehicle accessibility and then for interface accessibility for AVs, designs that allow for the redundancy of different needs, whether for people with different disabilities, for children riding on their own, for older adults, or for people with luggage, strollers or shopping carts.
While federal standards are fine, standards that vehicle manufacturers will adhere to - whether voluntary, imposed, or a mixture of both - are critical. So much of the problem with the ADA is the lack of accessible vehicles. There will not be widespread accessibility unless the OEMs and other vehicle manufacturers see profit in universal design, Encouraging signs for universal design are the Renault EZ-GO concept car and the new Olli by Local Motors.
In terms of rural areas, we already have good examples of rural transportation and other rural services that can be adapted to AVs. These are good examples because they are long standing and reflect acceptance of services for everyone and not just those with significant challenges. These include school bus transportation, postal service, and rural electric cooperatives. All provide service despite the greater cost per person (or parcel) than in urban areas.
To decrease the inefficiencies and absurdly high costs of rural transportation, we must:
1. Encourage or require co-location of a range of destinations that include shopping, schools, houses of worship and other community centers, employment, and health care.
2. Reframe how we fund and collect revenue for transportation so that we we discourage non-shared road use, parking, and crash likelihood, all of which are costs that are higher for rural areas. Currently, rural areas see a disproportionate share of roadway fatalities and injuries, pay higher costs per capita for road maintenance, and score lower than cities on public health measures. Let us make sure that we use the AV revolution to improve the lives of people in rural areas as well as provide rides for some very nice people who happen to live in NYC or San Francisco.