Planning for Equity in New Mobility

Shared, automated, connected and electric transportation technologies have the potential to bridge equity gaps in our current transportation system – increasing access, reducing injuries and lowering costs.
We are at an important junction in the development of these technologies, and have an opportunity ensure that their evolution benefits people that most need transportation and mobility services. This means taking care to not simply allow these evolving technologies to benefit people with means – income, privilege, physical and cognitive ability, and access to banks– and pass by those without.

Tools and Strategies

While the technology and business models are still fluid, now is the time to put in place measures to achieve equity going forward. How the pendulum will swing is uncertain, and significant questions remain with regards to affordability, sharing, and private vs. public benefits and ownership models. Fortunately, new mobility offers an opportunity to address some of inequities through thoughtful, strategic planning and implementation. Example tools and strategies to proactively address equity include:

  • Education and Engagement: Educate and engage affected communities to determine their needs and challenges and involve them directly and substantively in the decision-making process.
  • Private Partnerships: Work with private partners to ensure equity is considered in every step of processes, from idea to implementation, using incentives, permits and regulation appropriately.
  • New Policies:
    • Examine existing policies and practices for immediate opportunities, such as reducing parking minimums in transit-rich city centers to increase housing development, or creating incentives for employers to provide transit passes, micro-mobility memberships, or micro transit access to their employees.
    • Create policies and programs to move toward shared mobility and active transportation (such as Los Angeles’s Urban MOBILITY in a Digital Age and Seattle’s New Mobility Playbook, etc.), and frameworks for assessing and evaluating new mobility projects (such as San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s Emerging Mobility program). Having these in place, with focused strategies and goals regarding equity, will prioritize equity as a consideration for all new projects, and create accountability for the outcomes of such projects.
    • Craft policies, permits, etc., so that new mobility complements, rather than competes with, public transit.
    • Develop or revisit policies that emphasize universal access for public transportation, including any new shared mobility options or modes.
  • Inclusive Designs: Examine infrastructure and street design to incorporate mobility options that will be prioritized (transit, active transportation, shared automated vehicles, electrification, etc.).
  • Targeted Investments: Consider programs that specifically target focus populations, including the elderly, mobility challenged, those without bank accounts, or access to technology (Chicago’s Ventra Card, GoGoGrandparent, etc.).
  • Data Use: Utilize data to understand needs, effects, and potential changes needed (i.e., mobility data specifications, shared streets).

Early Action

In addition to planning and policy steps, it’s not too early to take concrete action. As the technology evolves, we can already see innovative examples of organizations seeking to ensure equity. The following highlight just some of many examples from around the country.

  • Health and Human Services: Hennepin County, Minnesota, the largest county in Minnesota, has looked across its agency to identify how emerging technologies could be harnessed to benefit transportation-disadvantaged individuals accessing County services. The County provides rides for qualified transportation-challenged individuals to access health services. In the future, automated shuttles could provide an easier, more convenient and cheaper transportation option – improving health outcomes and reducing public expenditures. Agencies may even use automated vehicles as mobile health and human service centers, efficiently meeting people where they are with a one-stop shop. Today, the County uses HitchHealth, a startup that integrates ride services and appointment systems to improve access, including for people without smart phones.
  • Criminal Justice and Public Safety: Today, Hennepin County is piloting a rideshare service (in partnership with Lyft) whereby approved individuals who have lost their licenses or who face transportation challenges can get free rides to and from court by texting from their phone, reducing transportation, income, and technology barriers.
  • Neighborhood Transportation Access: In Oakland, California, Lyft recently announced a partnership with Transform and Scraper Bikes—two local community groups—to invest $1 million ($700,000 from Lyft) on initiatives aimed at increasing transportation access for disadvantaged populations in East Oakland. The program will include a free bike lending library in East Oakland, with bikes for adults and children available at no cost for medium-length rentals (up to one month), an education and engagement program to plan the future of bikeshare in Oakland, and a pilot program with free or reduced fares for transit rides and Lyft rides for underserved populations in the city.
  • Partnerships Beyond Transportation: More broadly, investments by private companies in local communities can help address multiple issues, by supporting disadvantaged communities’ mobility and access needs directly, and creating pathways of opportunity in the longer term. Numerous private companies support programs in the communities they operate in, donating to education programs, sustainability efforts, and innovative collaborations. Some, such as Lyft’s partnership in Oakland, or General Motor’s Cruise’s investment in the Black Girls Code mission, can also help ensure a more equitable transportation future.

Moving Forward

The uncertainty of our rapidly evolving transportation system continues to require new methods and strategies. Making the best policy choices is as challenging as making the right investments. But taking first steps now to pilot both policies and projects to protect and enhance equity can help communities and decision makers understand how to utilize new mobility towards more equitable outcomes, while preventing us from repeating past mistakes.

Tim Burkhardt, assistant vice president and senior transportation planner at WSP USA, is passionate about the benefits emerging mobility solutions can bring to people and communities. His work includes helping agencies with strategic planning and projects to capture the benefits and minimize the risks of these new technologies.

Sahar Shirazi, planning and policy lead for automated vehicles and emerging mobility at WSP USA, helps clients develop and implement plans, policies and projects that incorporate emerging mobility solutions, creating more efficient and beneficial built environments and transportation systems.

WSP is at the forefront of the development and testing of transportation infrastructure for connected and automated vehicles, and is currently advising transportation agencies across the U.S. on the development and implementation of infrastructure and policies to proactively plan for these vehicles of the future. The firm’s comprehensive capabilities with respect to connected and automated vehicles are presented at To find out what we can do for you, contact us at [email protected]