New mobility, new opportunity
Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

Image: a little girl uses a Ford GoBike. Photo: Pamela Palma PhotographyThe transportation sector is undergoing massive disruption. 

America’s transportation and land use planning has overwhelmingly focused on moving cars quickly, at any cost. For those who can’t drive, or can’t afford to, this has been a disaster. Particularly low-income communities of color, people with disabilities, and seniors have suffered from high costs, air pollution, and inadequate service. 

Now, the integration of technology and mobility are fundamentally changing the way we get around. Ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber allow people to summon a ride any time. A single car share vehicle can take about 10 personally-owned vehicles off the road. In a growing number of cities, bike share is helping solve the “last mile problem,” filling gaps in the public transit network. Self-driving cars will likely precipitate the most profound change yet.

Together, these “new mobility” technologies offer a chance to overcome the gaps and inequities in our transportation system.  Done right they have the potential to greatly cut travel times, reduce private vehicle ownership, reduce crashes, and increase access to opportunity. We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to create a cleaner, safer, more efficient, and affordable transportation network for everyone.  

Unfortunately, as outlined in TransForm’s new report, A Framework for Equity in New Mobility, new mobility innovations could very well go the wrong way.  People with low incomes or disabilities may face higher costs, inadequate services, or have a host of obstacles accessing new services. New mobility could erode lifeline services that people depend on, particularly public transportation.

The new mobility conversation has focused too much on technology and too little on human impact. We need to humanize the role of emerging mobility technologies by finally addressing the needs of those left behind by the transportation system of the past. We must also reduce climate pollution and its impacts on the most vulnerable communities in the US and worldwide.

The private sector is leading this innovation revolution, but we can’t count on it to prioritize critical social and environmental needs. The public sector must ensure that vulnerable communities reap the benefits so we can close the inequality gap rather than widen it. We are already behind the curve, and there isn’t a moment to waste.

TransForm has been advocating for equity in new mobility for several years, and just released a new report about our work to expand access to shared mobility services in Oakland. We are now announcing a new initiative to harness the fast-accelerating field for equity and climate benefits. Our Framework for Equity in New Mobility lays out a path to justice and will help guide this work via three primary strategies.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

We must expand efforts to ensure disadvantaged communities shape new mobility options to fit community needs.

  • Continue leading regional advocacy efforts to expand access to bike share in the Bay Area.
  • Support community members and local decision-makers to develop a shared vision for equity in new mobility.
  • Regularly convene cities, transit agencies, and advocates to collaborate on regional management of new mobility options.

PLANNING & PILOT PROJECTS

Cities and agencies should pilot new mobility equity projects that respond to the needs of residents, as identified through community-based transportation plans. These could include:

  • Work with cities and developers to incorporate a range of new mobility options into affordable housing developments at no or very low cost to residents.
  • On the Highway 101 corridor, prove that tech-enabled shared mobility can help move more people with less traffic and pollution than highway widening.
  • Work with new mobility companies to pilot strategies that ensure vulnerable populations benefit from new services.
  • In the next update of Plan Bay Area, advocate for a transportation scenario that supports shared and equitable new mobility solutions.
  • Support funding for pilot projects in new mobility equity from new funding measures, such as transportation sales taxes.
  • Share success stories with regional transportation leaders from throughout California.

POLICY ADVOCACY

The public sector needs to play a strong role in steering a course for new mobility that is accessible, affordable, and sustainable.

  • Advocate and advise at the local, regional, and state levels as jurisdictions begin to develop plans, programming, and policy around new mobility, including autonomous vehicles.
  • Work with transit agencies to prioritize equity and access as they incorporate new mobility technologies or subsidies into their operations.
  • Ensure state agencies, including Caltrans and the California Air Resources Board, are supporting new mobility projects that meet both equity and climate goals.
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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.