Expert yet vulnerable: Understanding the needs of transit dependent riders to inform policy and design

  • Emma J. Rose University of Washington Tacoma
  • Robert Racadio University of Washington
  • Travis Martin EMC
  • Deidre Girard Independent
  • Beth Kolko University of Washington
Keywords: transit dependence, transportation, information and communication technologies, structuration, human centered 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.

Author Biographies

Emma J. Rose, University of Washington Tacoma

Emma J. Rose is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Tacoma and interested in designing for digital inclusion.

Robert Racadio, University of Washington

Robert Racadio is a PhD Candidate in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. Email:

Travis Martin, EMC

Travis Martin is a senior content strategist at EMC. He is interested in information experience design. Email:

Deidre Girard, Independent

Deidre Girard is the Communications Director for a Seattle-based labor union, and is committed to working for economic and social justice. Email:

Beth Kolko, University of Washington

Beth Kolko is a Professor at the University of Washington. She blends disciplinary perspectives to identify hidden problems and craft innovative solutions. Email:

How to Cite
Rose, E., Racadio, R., Martin, T., Girard, D., & Kolko, B. (2017). Expert yet vulnerable: Understanding the needs of transit dependent riders to inform policy and design. The Journal of Community Informatics, 13(1). Retrieved from