Sustainable Development Goal number 11 has a target that by 2030, “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.” Is it harder for marginalized populations to “catch a ride” in Smart Cites?
Smart City Transport, what are the options? Well we have smart street car projects in cities like Atlanta. In Austin, Texas there are plans for connected automated cars, smart stations and mobility marketplaces. Columbus, Ohio is focused on creating Real-time transportation systems and smart transportation corridors. In Birmingham, Alabama they have electric assist bike sharing programs. Kansas City, Missouri is planning to use sensors that have the ability to measure that will monitor mobility, emissions and safety. If you factor in the usage of electric cars, Smart Cities will look like Tomorrowland at Disney Land.
So Who Gets Transported?
Public transportation has historically failed poor and marginalized communities in America. All of these Smart City transport innovations are touted to be public transport solutions. In Washington, D.C. the Metro system is facing systematic cuts in service in a time when cities are supposed to providing more transport options.
“Slashing services could help the system with operating costs, but at a profound cost to the city in terms of social equity. As 11 of the stations targeted for cuts are located in Ward 7, Ward 8, and P.G. County, the proposal would disproportionately hamper D.C.’s poorest and blackest communities.” -Kriston Kapps
Instead of investing in the Metro system, D.C. has rolled out a bike sharing program. On the surface ideas like bike share programs seem like great ways to give people access or are these innovations just options for those who already have options? For example in Washington D.C. studies show that majority of users of the bike share programs are white, male and 50% make of $100,000 a year. Bike share programs are not free and often for poor and marginalized communities those bikes are not available in their area of town. In Atlanta on the Westside of the city, women have to use a old school innovation called “the ride man”. The “ride man” is like Uber for the poor who don’t have a personal vehicle. The Westside of Atlanta is largely a food desert and food swamp and without a car it is hard to get to grocery stores out of the immediate area. So I was at a community meeting where they talked about women paying $35 a ride to the “ride man” (a man with a car that picks them up to take them grocery shopping) round trip to take them to get groceries. Unless you live a gentrified area of town and you are poor you don’t have “smart options” to the new transportation options. The Atlanta smart street cars don’t travel down to West End side of town into the neighborhoods.
How do you convince citizens that you “smart sensors” in the road will help manage and monitor emissions and safety when they still have trouble getting pop holes repaired? We are planning how to manage self driving cars when many in marginalized communities don’t have access to regular cars. We have technological progress and moral ineptitude. When we think and plan Smart City transport systems the focus can’t just be on options and access but inclusion and equity. Studies have shown links between upward mobility, poverty and public transportation. A Harvard study has revealed in cities like Atlanta, Boston, New York Los Angeles and Birmingham, Al that there is a connection between long commute times and poverty. So what will we do to expand the scope of Smart City Transport beyond the “high rent district” to marginalized communities that desperately need affordable options? If we don’t find equitable solutions in Smart City Transport then many of the poor may end up out of service.