THE TENSIONS ARE REAL: A CONVERSATION ON MICRO-MOBILITY AND THE IMPACT ON BLACK COMMUNITIES
A recap of a powerful discussion held during Black History Month exploring race, inequality, and justice in the dawn of a new era of advancement in the transportation sector.
<<Views My Own>>
As a part of Cruise’s celebration of Black History Month, Cruisers of African Diaspora (COAD) sponsored a conversation on innovative transportation options such as e-bikes, e-scooters, and self-driving cars, and the impact on black communities. We invited speakers and guests representing diverse perspectives within the mobility space, and conducted the conversation under Chatham House rules to allow the panelists and attendees to speak freely.
What Went Down?
To kick things off, we gave our guests an overview of COAD (pronounced “code”) — explaining we view the term diaspora in the broadest sense to include all Cruisers whose heritage originates from all over the African continent. We also talked a little bit about the process for designing the COAD logo, which draws inspiration from the African-American artist Lois Mailou Jones, and pattern-work espoused by many African cultures. Again, the idea of being inclusive of all cultures within the diaspora.
Next, our amazing moderator, Lisa Francouer led us through a discussion that touched on the challenges of advancing mobility technology in Black communities. She had the panelists explore how they strike a balance between the desire to make sure that micro-mobility and other transportation solutions are equitable and inclusive juxtaposed with the professional responsibility to ensure that these solutions are profitable.
Our impressive slate of panelists (Brian Clark, Cruise; Sean Connor, Lime; Nichole Jordan, Remix; and Jamala Massenburg, Lyft Level 5) offered personal insights into working at the forefront of emerging transportation technology. Their varied professional experiences (engineering, operations, and public affairs) provided introspective and sometimes divergent viewpoints of the mobility industry. Out of respect for the views expressed by the panelists and attendees, I will not go into specific detail (Chatham House rules!), but I will offer that many were left touched, moved, and inspired by what was shared. In sharing their stories, they were able to help us better understand our own stories. Throughout the evening, we laughed, we learned, and we challenged each other on ways of leveraging our shared history to work together towards a better mobile future.
Why These Conversations Matter?
At Cruise, we fundamentally believe the transportation system in this country is broken. Like…really broken. It’s BROKE! And one reason is that many in this country were left behind from the beginning. African-Americans in particular were marginalized socially, and were not considered as transportation planners and engineers designed the transportation networks in our cities. The result is a transportation ecosystem that is inequitable. The issue is systemic. Communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by the economic, environmental, health and social problems exacerbated by our transportation system.
However, the emergence of new mobility-related technology has the potential to address some of the root causes of transportation inequity. The advancement of data analytics, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence can help us better understand the impacts of decision-making on communities of color. Access to more opportunities, cheaper transportation choices, reasonable travel times, and improved air quality are key to improving life in Black communities. And new mobility technology can make us feel as though those improvements are within reach. However, as we embrace these technologies and contemplate the future of our cities, we must fully understand and reconcile the mistakes of the past in order to avoid them in our future. We must engage communities of color meaningfully — with listening being the first and most critical step.
It was empowering to hear from other African-Americans who are deeply committed to the notion of operationalizing equity while advancing technology solutions to improve quality of life in cities — what I refer to as responsible deployment. I believe it is part of our responsibility as African Americans working in this space to come together to explore the impact of our work.
I was recently reminded of the Bible verse Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together.” At Cruise — we came; we reasoned with each other; and we celebrated Black history by having a much needed conversation on equity in the mobility space. While I am not clear on what precisely is next (although I have some ideas), conversations like this one give me hope that as we transform our transportation ecosystem, we will do so in a manner that strives to include input from all communities.