A Framework for Equity in New Mobility


Stuart Cohen and Clarrissa Cabansagan

Year Published: 



Transportation planning has overwhelmingly focused on moving as many cars as possible. The resulting transportation system has had devastating impacts on low-income communities of color, people with disabilities, seniors, and youth, who have been left out of decision-making and suffered from poor public transit service, inadequate access to opportunities, high household costs, and exposure to high levels of air pollution.
Very low-income families spend, on average, over 30 percent of their income on transportation. Limited mobility to access jobs, health care, and other opportunities is a major barrier to self-sufficiency. Disadvantaged communities also suffer severe health impacts from our current transportation system, with greater numbers of car-related injuries and deaths, and higher rates of asthma, heart disease, and other pollution-related illnesses. Transportation is also the largest source of climate pollution and these impacts fall hardest on the most vulnerable communities. 
Transportation, however, is on the cusp of massive change. New business models that integrate advanced technologies and transportation will fundamentally change the way we get around.  
Examples of “new mobility” options already proliferating include:
  1. Shared vehicles (bike share, car share, and scooter share)
  2. Ride-hailing or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs, e.g. Uber, Lyft)
  3. Private micro-transit services, often using 15-person shuttle vehicles (e.g. Chariot)
  4. Demand-responsive public bus service (e.g. AC Transit Flex)
  5. Carpool apps (e.g. Scoop, Waze Carpool).

Several early examples show that these new options may exacerbate unequal access. For example, suburban bus operators are now turning to TNCs to help provide service, which may be too costly for lower income riders, and many car share and bike share systems are unavailable to people who are unbanked or don’t have smartphones. As automated or “driverless” vehicles become more widespread, the impact of new mobility models will increase dramatically. What will this mean for disadvantaged communities? 

Change and disruption of the existing transportation network is inevitable, but worsening inequality doesn’t have to be. We can harness innovations to create a more equitable, sustainable transportation system and begin to right the wrongs of the past. Public transportation must be the backbone of any such system. With this commitment, we can begin to close the equity gap. 

TransForm works toward a future where the needs of vulnerable populations with limited mobility (low-income, people of color, the disability community, seniors, and youth) are central in transportation planning. This paper gives an overview of key obstacles to successfully achieving this vision. It then provides a framework for evaluating the social equity impacts of new mobility projects and programs, and several recommendations to ensure new mobility does more good than harm.