“New mobility” technologies, such as car sharing, ride sharing, ride sourcing, electric scooters, and dockless and docked bike sharing, are providing residents a growing number of options to travel within and across neighborhoods (Clewlow, Foti, and Separd-Ohto 2018). These forms of mobility provide on-demand transportation options and operate outside traditional public transportation systems. As new mobility technologies gain popularity, they present an opportunity to build more equitable transportation systems.
Through their responsive nature, new mobility technologies have the potential to reduce existing transportation inequities. But without proper planning, they could reinforce existing inequities and fail to deliver inclusive and equitable transportation outcomes.[i] To ensure new mobility services successfully increase equitable access to transportation, local policymakers must intentionally incorporate equity considerations into planning and implementation by assessing and responding to barriers to transportation access such as cost of use, service availability, geographic distribution of routes, physiological challenges, and social barriers.
The impacts of new mobility tend to focus on large cities such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or the District of Columbia. However, new mobility is increasingly present in many medium-size cities (those with 150,000 to 300,000 people), and yet questions remain about the effects of these technologies in these cities, the practices being developed to ensure equitable access and use of new mobility services, and an understanding of how those practices differ from those in larger markets. Medium-size cities have the advantage of seeing how larger cities have responded to new mobility companies and therefore have the opportunity to more proactively build regulatory frameworks, build partnerships, and support equitable outcomes. However, these cities also face issues different from those in the larger, more densely populated cities that new mobility companies operated in first, and they therefore have fewer models to draw best practices from.
This report has two main goals: (1) to identify what medium-size cities are doing to incorporate new mobility technologies into transportation and equity plans and (2) to identify how these cities can develop proactive planning and decisionmaking structures to incorporate new mobility technologies. Being proactive rather than reacting in an ad hoc manner allows cities to partner with new mobility companies more effectively and engage community residents to ensure inclusive and equitable transportation outcomes.
Our research is informed by interviews with representatives from local and regional planning organizations from 10 medium-size jurisdictions and from three new mobility companies. Participants were asked about topics such as protocols around data sharing, distribution of roles and responsibilities, and strategies for incorporating equity into new mobility planning. Our research is further informed by key insights gained from a roundtable of representatives from five of the jurisdictions.
We find that cities are using the new mobility space to lean into process improvements and incorporate equity into their transportation planning and systems. Cities must identify equity goals in advance, identify equity gaps in existing systems, and position new technology to bridge those gaps. Our research reveals several mechanisms medium-size cities are using to take these steps:
- Flexible agreements such as requests for proposals, permits, and pilots allow cities to test and embed equity mandates into new mobility operations.
- Intermediary data companies can help medium-size cities increase data capacity, navigate data privacy laws, and manage relationships with new mobility companies.
- Collaboration across jurisdictions and sectors is key to building out a transportation infrastructure that is critical for new mobility use.
- Cities can hardwire equity considerations into their operations by recalibrating internal structures and integrating equity guidance in their strategic plans.
We begin our report with an overview of transportation equity followed by a discussion of new mobility, including how we define it and which modes we include in our definition. We then review how cities more generally are dealing with new mobility technology and what strategies they are implementing to support equitable outcomes. Next, we share the new mobility context for medium-size cities more specifically. Finally, we present findings from our engagement with transportation and equity stakeholders in medium-size cities, identifying key challenges, solutions, and future opportunities for practice and research.
[i] Nellie Bowles and Devid Streitfeld, “Electric Scooters Are Causing Havoc. This Man is Shrugging it Off” The New York Times. April 20, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/technology/electric-scooters-are-causing-havoc-this-man-is-shrugging-it-off.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer.