The National Academies

TCRP B-47 [Active]

Impact of Transformational Technologies on Underserved Populations

  Project Data
Funds: $650,000
Co-funded with NCHRP
Staff Responsibility: Stephan A. Parker
Research Agency: Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Johanna P. Zmud
Effective Date: 11/5/2019
Completion Date: 11/4/2021
Comments: Research in progress. Draft final deliverables are anticipated in August 2021.

Changes in technology provide opportunities and risk to mobility, particularly as it relates to traditionally and newly underserved populations. In recent years, economic, environmental, and social forces have quickly given rise to shared and on-demand mobility—a collective of entrepreneurs and consumers leveraging technology to maximize transportation and financial resources and generate capital. For instance, shared mobility services have become part of a sociodemographic trend that has pushed shared, on-demand mobility from the fringe into the mainstream. These services have included micromobility options, such as electric scooters and bikesharing in different forms (station-based systems, dockless systems, and bikes that are traditional or electric-assist); car-based services have included carsharing with either station-based or one-way (Car2Go) service models; ridehailing services such as Lyft and Uber; and peer-to-peer carsharing services such as Getaround and Turo. Many transportation agencies and transport companies are updating existing or developing new mobility tools to improve the transportation experience and to enhance access and mobility, including mobile fare payment apps; multimodal trip planning apps; real-time information apps; and shared mobility apps. Many of the new mobility tools, however, require smartphone ownership or mobile bank accounts, so not everyone is included in this technology revolution.
There are concerns that new and emerging technologies and modal alternatives will exacerbate the disparity between the have and have nots, further isolating growing numbers of diverse populations. Rural areas and tribal reservations may lack even basic cell phone services and be  excluded from accessing such services. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2017 data, 23% of U.S. adults in urban areas do not have smart phone ownership, and 28% do not have smartphone ownership or can’t afford service plans in rural areas. Moreover, many rural areas are deficient in access to broadband services. Lack of smartphone ownership is mainly concentrated on traditionally disadvantaged groups such as minority, seniors, and low income. Also according to Pew, nearly 40 million people in the United States have a disability and "[d]isabled adults are also about 20 percentage points less likely than those without disabilities to say they subscribe to home broadband, or own a traditional computer, smartphone or tablet." According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), 7% of U.S. households are unbanked and an additional 20% are underbanked as of 2015, and thus are economically excluded from mobile financial services. From a transportation perspective, these populations are considered to be underserved. If underserved people’s travel information and travel needs are missing from planning data, their travel patterns and needs will not be considered and modeled, which will result in biased projections. Without attention, these populations are likely to be routinely excluded from accessing enhanced mobility through new mobility services and associated technologies, perpetuating historical, institutional disenfranchisement.
Research is needed to help public and private entities to assess, plan, and measure their progress toward achieving transportation equity and mobility inclusion in the era of transformational technology. Focusing narrowly on specific technologies and their benefits can enlarge our blind spots with respect to the underserved and with respect to consequences for travelers and others who are not direct users of these technologies. The research is anticipated to have three focus areas:
  1. Inclusion of, or equivalent facilitation for, underserved communities to access and use mobility services.
  2. Impacts of transformational technologies on mobility accessibility, travel behavior, and travel metrics.
  3. Impacts of the lack of infrastructure on access and future financial implications to achieve inclusion (e.g., cell tower coverage in rural areas).
The objective of this project is to develop a playbook with guidance on corrective actions with data, methods, and metrics to achieve inclusive mobility.
To achieve the objective, it will be necessary to examine how new and existing technology-enabled mobility services impact a community’s capacity to meet the mobility needs of all residents, with a special focus on how a community can ensure traditionally and newly underserved residents will benefit from those technology-enabled mobility services.
The playbook and associated products should inform transportation policymakers at planning organizations, and at public and private transportation entities with
  • Data analysis on the impacts of new technologies on travel behavior,
  • Strategic guidance,
  • Design requirements to inform policy and regulatory options to effect selected strategies, and
  • Recommended metrics and decision-making processes that will evaluate inclusion of the entire population of the state, regional, local, tribal, or territorial service area in accessing technology-enabled mobility services.
The guidance should be informed by an understanding of how technology has excluded or marginalized mobility options historically, and should emphasize current initiatives and strategic plans on how to include underserved populations in mobility enhancements including smartphone apps, vehicle automation, and shared on-demand mobility.
An interim meeting of the research team with the panel will be required.
The work proposed must be divided into tasks and proposers must describe the work proposed in each task in detail. The research plan should include, but not be limited to, addressing the following tasks:
Phase I
Task 1. Literature review. Review and summarize relevant literature on shared mobility, mobility as a service, new mobility tools, and connected and automated vehicles, focusing on how those technologies are experienced by the underserved: measurably, theoretically, or perceptually.
Task 2. Identify current gaps in transformational technology in addressing mobility inclusion (e.g., health and human services issuance of smartphone and recipient’s lack of ability to pay for service plan).
Task 3. Develop a data collection plan. Identify the underserved populations and detail a data collection process and methodology that includes outreach, engagement, and analysis that highlights the needs, impacts, and barriers to be overcome for such populations to access  inclusive mobility options and services. Qualitative and quantitative methods are encouraged.
Task 4. Submit an interim report. Include a recommended Phase II work plan and a detailed outline of the playbook and associated deliverables. Meet with the panel about a month after submission of the Interim Report. A PowerPoint presentation provided at the interim meeting should be suitable, upon revision, for posting on the project website.
Phase II
Task 5. Investigate the travel behavior and environmental impacts of inclusion on individual modal choice and willingness to use active transportation, public transportation, and other modes. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are encouraged.
Task 6. Investigate the travel behavior and environmental impacts of inclusion on the transportation system such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT), system capacity, and quality of service under a variety of policy, pricing, pooling, and regulatory scenarios (e.g., zero occupancy vehicles allowed in a service area for franchisees providing accessible fleets with service request response times within XX minutes; services allowed in certain zones only if equivalent service response times are provided in other designated zones; data retention, audit, and reporting to substantiate such compliance). Qualitative and quantitative approaches are encouraged. Address applicable pricing policies and funding opportunities, such as
  • VMT charges,
  • Pricing of infrastructure and supporting services (e.g., electricity, cell towers),
  • Toll systems, and
  • Congestion pricing.
Task 7. Identify policy guidelines and strategies that could be supported by data analysis and metrics. Develop an assessment tool that can be used as a checklist for reviewing the inclusiveness of transformational technologies for transportation services. Develop mobility inclusion guidelines for developing and implementing emerging mobility services. The guidelines will aid practitioners in efforts to include underserved users in the transportation technology revolution. Factors may include
  • Technology and device (e.g., mobile vs. internet platform),
  • Financial model (e.g., bank account, credit/debit card),
  • Business model,
  • Alternatives to access the service/information (e.g., cash, kiosk),
  • User experience (e.g., interface, language),
  • Multimodal integration (e.g., transfers),
  • Penalty for non-user (e.g., higher fare for cash payment), and
  • Not accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Task 8. Develop a playbook for corrective actions for practitioners to implement findings from the above tasks to address inclusion in mobility for traditionally and newly underserved populations.
At a minimum, deliverables shall include:
  • Monthly and quarterly progress reports,
  • Amplified work plan,
  • Interim report and associated PowerPoint presentation,
  • Draft final report,
  • Playbook,
  • Final report and stand-alone executive summary, and
  • A stand-alone technical memorandum titled “The Implementation of Findings and Products."
STATUS: Research in progress. An interim report was submitted and an interim meeting was held in July 2020. Draft final deliverables are anticipated in August 2021.

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