Sebastian Castellanos, a research lead at the New Urban Mobility alliance (NUMO) explains why it is essential to put communities at the heart of new mobility developments.
In just a decade, new mobility services like electric scooters, shared bicycles and app-enabled ride-hailing have proliferated across the global urban landscape. While these services have had their ups and down, the pace of innovation has only continued to accelerate. Yet there remains concern over whether new mobility is actually benefiting communities rather than simply disrupting them.
While a few cities, once struggling to catch up with technological disruptions that appeared overnight, are starting to more actively manage the entrance of new mobility services, there is little guidance available that helps navigate the process of understanding how new mobility is integrating, or not, with the local transportation ecosystem, and if the needs of communities who need mobility solutions are being met.
Paris has become a battleground for shared micromobility, joining a few cities that have opted to regulate the market through permits that dictate which companies can operate on the streets. Still, there’s no consistent approach that both addresses the new mobility market and ensures communities have a seat at the table in creating the transportation systems they want and need.
Getting Everyone Where They Need to Go — Equitably
Ensuring everyone is able to get where they need to go on a daily basis has become a cornerstone of municipal policies regarding new mobility. While shared scooters and bikes offer the opportunity to expand access to mobility by connecting travellers to transit trunk lines and providing efficient last-mile and short trip solutions, there is concern, and not unfounded, that the benefits of new mobility might not be equitably experienced. For example, data shows that bike-sharing systems are mostly used by white, affluent men in cities like Philadelphia, and the gender gap also manifests in shared scooter services, with men taking more trips than women.
These disparities are not surprising, especially given how, historically, our autocentric transportation and land use practices have destroyed thriving neighbourhoods, encouraged sprawl and exacerbated poverty, limiting access to opportunity and guaranteeing that lower-income households will bear a disproportionate burden in terms of transportation costs.
New technologies and tech-enabled services present us with a window of opportunity to rethink our transportation system, address inequality and build a new normal of mobility — one that is safer, more sustainable, and accessible to all, not just those who own a car and already have a multitude of choices. But to ensure this promise is met, we must focus on the way these new mobility innovations enter our communities so they do not exacerbate current disparities, but rather work toward creating more integrated, multimodal networks for everyone.
Doing so means city governments and their agencies must collaborate with private mobility service operators as well as the communities that will be impacted. We need co-creative processes of ongoing engagement in which innovations are deployed to solve both the community’s needs and add value to a city’s existing transportation ecosystem. We need to adopt a ‘community-first’ approach.
Adopting a Community-First Approach
A community-first approach places the community in the driver’s seat, amplifying the voices of those who are potentially most affected by disruption in the deployment of new mobility, as well as helping the private sector better understand the community’s needs. It can also help cities regain control of the deployment of new mobility services by providing a clear pathway that they can use to work with private operators when deploying these new services.
Additionally, a community-first approach bakes in public engagement from the start, removing guesswork in favor of empowered co-creation. Anyone who has worked for, or with, government on any level knows that meaningful public engagement is challenging. There are a myriad of tools and approaches that can be used to solicit input from communities, but not all of them result in meaningful changes that can improve the intentional deployment of transportation services. Very often, communities feel or are actively excluded from the process, which can sour relationships and damage any hope of future collaboration.
Ultimately, a community-first approach to deploying new mobility innovations is a win-win-win for cities, communities and private mobility service operators alike:
- Cities: Instead of a “wild west” approach to technological innovation — think private companies deploying services in cities without any oversight — a community-first approach helps policy makers chart a clear path forward and establish guidelines for private operators that are respectful of the needs and wants of those communities that will be affected by new services.
- Communities: A successfully executed community-first approach offers ample opportunity for community members to become directly involved in the planning and deployment processes for new mobility services. Their voices are heard, and the result is that these innovations fulfill their needs and establish, or build on, a relationship with both their city’s transportation agencies and the operators providing mobility solutions.
- Private Mobility Service Operators: Companies will gain a deeper understanding of their target customers and be able to improve their services and expand their user bases while responsibly and respectfully engaging with the communities they serve.
Starting Off Right
A community-first approach is exactly what NUMO (the New Urban Mobility alliance) used to create Starting Off Right: A Community-First New Mobility Playbook, a new digital tool to help cities engage communities and new mobility services to deploy transportation innovations inclusively and intentionally. Developed with the support of CityMart and a broad coalition of public agencies, private mobility services, development banks, and non-profit organisations, Starting Off Right empowers city decision makers with knowledge, tools, and examples to engage the community and leverage the new mobility market to get deployment of new mobility services right from the start and set a precedent for the rapidly-evolving future.
Cities like Los Angeles are already starting to embrace this new, community-first paradigm as they realize that the future of mobility must be co-created among key stakeholders while always centering the needs, desires and aspirations of the community.
As new mobility services continue to proliferate and evolve at a rapid pace, cities have a role to play in developing inclusive transportation ecosystems that foster and shape disruptive innovations while prioritising the needs of their communities and empowering them through the decision-making process. Adopting a community-first approach is the first step on a journey toward not only a better, more accessible transportation system, but also a better relationship with your community.
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