Webinar: Transportation Data for Equity

Event Date

Panelists: (Click here for Speaker Bios)

  • Regina Clewlow, CEO and Founder, Populus
  • Warren Logan, Policy Director of Mobility and Inter Agency Relations, City of Oakland
  • Juan Matute, Deputy Director, Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA
  • Adonia Lugo, Interim Chair, Teaching Faculty, Antioch University Los Angeles 
  • Moderator: Mollie Cohen D’Agostino, Policy Director, 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program, UC Davis

Event Summary:

Inequalities are abundant in transportation planning and research. A key to redressing these inequalities lies in what types of data and metrics are collected and used by planners, researchers, and policymakers. On June 23, 2020, the 3 Revolutions Policy Initiative at UC Davis hosted a webinar on the need to change the transportation research questions we ask and how we collect related data--so that we better reveal, address, and correct for a legacy of inequality and racial discrimintion in transportation.

Mollie D’Agostino, Policy Director of the 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program moderated the webinar with four panelists: Adonia Lugo, Interim Chair and Teaching Faculty at Antioch University Los Angeles; Regina Clewlow, CEO and Founder of Populus, a company providing a digital platform to help cities manage new mobility; Warren Logan, Policy Director of Mobility and Inter Agency Relations at the City of Oakland; and Juan Matute, Deputy Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA.

Lugo, who has a background in cultural anthropology, pointed out that transportation research is shaped by the legacy of historic segregation and inequality in the United States. Transportation planning and research have largely been practiced as industrial sciences, looking at improving the efficiency of systems. However, using tools from cultural anthropology--participant observation and studying everyday routines of travelers--can help practitioners better understand the unique needs of local areas. 

Working for the City of Oakland, Logan relies on data to make objective decisions about policy and procedure. But, he pointed out, data collected by researchers often lack intersectionality and don’t capture the lived experience of community members. Though transportation planning has shifted towards data and analytics, that shouldn’t diminish the voices and input of citizens. The role of transportation planners needs to better serve diverse populations.

Clewlow, of Populus, advocates for widespread access to datasets to create a more equitable transportation system. Clewlow believes that cities need to adapt to eliminate current biases and limit future ‘mistakes’ in transportation services. Broader and accessible datasets may help achieve this goal. 

Matute, from UCLA, agreed with fellow panelists that a renewed anthropological approach will improve key aspects of transportation research. Matute remarked that although infrastructure and public transit projects are complex endeavors, they are not as complex as the communities they serve. In this sense, it’s important to engage with people and communities with deeper methods of outreach.

Panelists agreed that blind spots are prevelant in transportation research and result in considerable data-gaps. Logan remarked on hidden obstacles to city planning objectives like the establishment of biking infrastructure in Oakland. For example, data indicate that police are more likely to stop pedestrians on bikes when they are in certain parts of Oakland. This disproportionality affected African-Americans. Traditionally, policymakers and infrastructure planners wouldn’t be informed about policing statistics in relation to geography. But forward-thinking public employees like Logan are taking a closer look at how people’s lived experience relates to government planning.  

Lugo added that data collection needs to include qualitative as well as quantitative data. Analysts often collect qualitative data but sometimes struggle to factor them into their conclusions and insights. Lugo gave the example of micro-mobility studies that have ‘built in’ flaws and assumptions about the ‘needs’ of specific communities. She went on to reference studies and proposals that make qualitative statements about the upside of micro-mobility access but disregard the reality of a community’s lived experience. For example, analysts are quick to criticize private automobile usage for environmental reasons. While these criticisms are valid, they also dismiss an important mode of transportation for commuters and make assumptions about their logistical needs. 

In response, Matute noted that transportation surveys can be reductive and fail to capture the complexity of a community’s local needs. He suggested that more funding be allocated towards localized studies and surveys. The kinds of questions featured on surveys need to be expanded to record specific qualitative answers to broaden data sets and achieve equitable outcomes.

Data and privacy are closely intertwined when considering the relationship between transportation and equity. Companies like Uber and JUMP Bike are resistant to sharing geolocation data with government agencies, resulting in several lawsuits. There are some cities that don’t have established privacy policies about what data is accessible to police investigations, adding to the confusion. In her remarks, Clewlow asserted that a neutral third-party data host should be established to discern between what geolocation data can be legally and ethically shared with government agencies. 

Collecting data that capture inequities and their resolution will require a multidisciplinary approach. While explaining his vision for equitable transportation data, Logan made it clear that agencies need to “put black and brown people at the center of the discussion.” He added that government should vastly improve its style of communication outreach with local communities. 

Too often, studies and surveys conducted aren’t written with a community’s unique needs in mind and won’t reflect people’s experiences. Community members also need to strategize about how to best engage with governments to achieve equitable outcomes in transportation research, infrastructure planning, public policy, and more. By recognizing inequities in transportation data and research, future policymakers can design stronger systems that include everyone.