Why Community Power is the Greatest Innovation in Transportation

Why Community Power is the Greatest Innovation in Transportation

Why Community Power is the Greatest Innovation in Transportation For decades, car ownership has been an enduring symbol of the American dream, signifying prosperity and economic mobility. However, the reality is much more complex. Deeply entrenched inequity in our transportation and economic systems mean that car ownership is often out of reach for communities of color and low-income communities. On top of this, emphasis on individual car ownership over mobility options like public transit contributes to the rapid escalation of the climate crisis, the impacts of which hit communities of color first and worst. The ability to access reliable transportation to reach jobs and education, remains one of the largest barriers today to economic prosperity. But rather than continuing to fuel individual car ownership as the most viable solution, transportation planners and decision-makers should look to innovative solutions that address existing transportation and economic inequity. One such solution lies in building community power. Legacies of Inequity Legacies of Inequity

The high barriers to reliable transportation that communities of color and low-income communities face is not an accident–it is a deliberate result of racist policies like redlining that disinvested private and public dollars from these communities, depriving them of resources and basic infrastructure. In addition, the construction of highways through communities of color was seen as the height of “innovation” in transportation in the 1950s and 1960s, yet have left frontline communities today more polluted, less climate resilient, and more cut off from opportunities. Today, home ownership and car ownership are two major indicators of economic mobility. A study on working class Americans looked at the socioeconomic status of households in the United States without private vehicles and found that “ the disparity between an auto-owning household and a carless household was about as large as it is between a homeowner and renter .”  But even when a person does own a car, it can be a massive financial burden. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that “In 2022, households with income lower than $25,000 who owned at least one vehicle spent 38% of their after-tax income on transportation; while households with the same income who did not own or lease a vehicle spent 5% of their after-tax income on transportation.” This evidence stands in stark contrast to the narrative that car ownership and car-based infrastructure alone leads to greater power and innovation across the board. Paving a New Path Towards Equitable Mobility: Building Community Power Paving a New Path Towards Equitable Mobility: Building Community Power

Community power in transportation looks like approaches that empower communities to design and implement local transportation solutions that build community resilience, create mobility equity, and deliver intentional benefits to their community. This can be achieved through shared decision-making processes that intentionally aim to put power back in the hands of historically underserved or marginalized communities. Community-owned mobility solutions are solutions that allow collective ownership, management, and deep engagement or buy-in from the community for transportation options. Models of Community Ownership Informal community-owned mobility networks Informal community-owned mobility networks

Planners can look to informally owned and operated mobility solutions for lessons on the types of services that communities need. Informal community-owned mobility networks can fill transportation gaps, particularly in places that are not served by public or private transportation options. In the largely immigrant boroughs of New York, an informal “shadow transit” network of dollar vans helps fill gaps in transit deserts. The unofficial shuttles are an In Chicago, electric vehicle fleets owned by a local business offer hyper local services, fill gaps, and complement public transportation gaps in environmental justice communities where the burden of vehicle ownership is high. Informal transportation networks have long operated in the Global South, in the form of mototaxis, tuk tuks, and more. Where public and private investment fail to reach communities, local community-owned or operated models can emerge as meaningful innovations that promote economic development and deliver social benefits . Community ride-sharing services Community ride-sharing services

The costs of car ownership can feel impossible for many. Car- and ride-sharing models offer the utility and benefit of having a private vehicle without having to pay the burden of vehicle fees and repairs. The CruSE Project is a community car sharing program stationed near affordable housing sites. This program also offers alternative payment methods for unbanked folks who don’t have a checking or savings account so that they can still use the cars. Programs like CruSE and Miocar, which offers income-qualified users at reduced rates, are sprouting up as the race  to reduce vehicle dependency, electrify and ensure that low income communities are not left behind. Equitable models of these community-owned transportation solutions must prioritize low- income communities in their accessibility, affordability, and design. Governments should also play a role to support and complement these systems. In the rural farmworker community of Huron, California, Green Raiteros began as an informal system of neighbors driving one another to the grocery store or doctor’s appointments for a small fee. Through some private and state grants, Green Raiteros has been able to expand to operate an electric community-owned ridesharing service that provides workforce opportunities to drivers and affordable transit options for community members. Green Raiteros owns and maintains electric vehicles and chargers and is overseen by a community board. Community members’ direct local participation in the services and operation of Green Raiteros enables them to reflect local cultural norms and reinforce a sense of community ownership and investment in local residents. While there are many forms of community car ownership models, ultimately these models are alternatives to car ownership and offer transportation solutions that meet the needs of the community where they need to be taken, and build opportunities for employment and community participation. Public-private partnerships Public-private partnerships

While ideally the government can support the development of community-owned models, public-private partnerships can be another critical tool to increase mobility options. But governments must provide ongoing operations support to ensure the pricing and operations can remain tailored to community needs. In another rural North Carolina city where public transit service was discontinued, the city received funding through federal and state grants to implement a microtransit service operated by the company Via. This provides a critical service for this community, where more than half of the rides public vans drive day-to-day are simply to get people to their jobs. For example, car sharing and ride hailing services like Zipcar and Uber are often notorious for not investing in low-income and rural communities that are “not profitable.” There have been many cases where companies pull out of a contract with a city or simply go broke, leaving no good transit options for community members. In addition, these services are inherently profit-driven, which can lead to high prices or changing routes that have harsh financial consequences on low-income users. Local governments considering these types of public-private partnerships should exercise caution and ensure there are strong protections in place that center equity and community power. Community-owned EV infrastructure Community-owned EV infrastructure

Community ownership can also come in the form of prioritizing community-owned charging infrastructure in communities of color . Lessons on EV Car sharing found that the lack of home charging, particularly for people living in multifamily housing continues to be a barrier. One initiative directly delivering economic and social benefits to predominantly BIPOC charging desert and communities throughout Chicago is Community Charging Initiative . The company works with a women-owned EVmatch developer and employed local companies like AMB Renewable Energy to install the public charging station at a local church where many of its users remain people who live in multi-family housing or rent without a reliable place to charge. How Transportation Planners and Decisionmakers Can Support Equitable Mobility Solutions How Transportation Planners and Decisionmakers Can Support Equitable Mobility Solutions

Planners and decisionmakers at local, state, and federal levels should fund transportation solutions that: 1) intentionally connects communities to where they want to be, 2) invests in community; and, 3) builds shared ownership opportunities to build a healthier, wealthier and more resilient future. Reliable transportation isn’t just about getting from one place to another, it’s about the ability to participate fully in one’s own life and thrive. That’s true community power.