January 6, 2020
BOARD CHAIR JENNIFER COHAN ON ITS AMERICA IN 2020
We are on the verge of massive change in how we deliver transportation in this country and around the world.
Mobility on Demand/Mobility as a Service models are exploding, and while it affords us endless opportunities, it also presents challenges – and the biggest challenge I see right now is the growing equity gap. Women, persons with disabilities, minorities, and lower-income individuals don’t have equal access to many of these emerging mobility on demand services.
I want to address this equity gap by bringing these issues to the forefront of our work at ITS America. How can ridesharing companies, manufacturers and public transportation agencies help close this gap? It is doable and we have a responsibility to make it happen. To put things in perspective as an example, Delaware is the smallest state in the country, yet it is the only state that provides door to door paratransit services for persons with disabilities outside the mandated three-quarters of a mile Federal Transit Administration requirement. This has allowed for our state’s disabled community to have access and a better quality of life. We risk marginalizing whole groups of people unless we come up with transportation solutions for all.
Mobility on demand is great, but we can’t lose sight of mobility as a right. If we reframe the conversation and look at the issue through this lens, we will have a much better shot at helping close the equity gap.
It starts with public transportation – as operators of the system, it’s our responsibility to identify the transit deserts and figure out other options for people to get around. We should have those conversations community by community. For example, here in Delaware we know that Latino communities prefer to get information about government services through community centers and churches. It’s important not just to customize the message but to identify the best vehicle by which to communicate the message.
It is also important to keep women in mind as we develop solutions. They are still, for example, the number one caregiver of both children and aging parents, so they typically make more trips in a day. A working mom could drop kids off at school or daycare in the morning, pick them up, stop at the grocery store, visit an aging parent, and then go home. Keeping this in mind is critical when we talk about potential solutions. As we design or redesign our transit network, we need to keep things in mind such as decent lighting in subways and think about whether women will feel comfortable waiting at a bus shelter – women pay more attention to these issues because it’s a necessity.
These social justice conversations are critical. The post-war boom in the middle of the 20th century created sprawling suburbs, and freeways divided neighborhoods. As we consider uniting communities and improving quality of life via Mobility as a Right, what better organization than ITS America to talk about these issues?
In fact, ITS America is also in an excellent – and unique – position to talk about these issues. Our board is the most diverse it has ever been, and with that diversity comes strength. We have a much more holistic perspective because we bring together public agencies, private companies, and academia. When ITS America speaks on this issue, people listen, and I think that although we represent divergent views, we find common ground. If we’re all playing at the playground, we can play on different equipment, but we obey the rules to keep the playground safe and functional for everyone.
2020 is going to be great year, and I am excited about it. We are moving forward on a strategic planning exercise to help chart our course, and the process will help us further refine our core competencies moving into 2020 and beyond. We should use our credibility on Capitol Hill – which I believe is one of our biggest assets – to push forward our key policy priorities.
I want to reinforce the importance of our board’s strength. As we plan our events, I hope we have strong board involvement and strong member involvement overall – this is how we ensure all the diverse opinions are being heard. Hosting the ITS World Congress in Los Angeles this fall gives us a tremendous opportunity to showcase our strength and commitment to creating a safer, greener and smarter future.