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Building for Everyone: Understanding Transportation Inequity

December 09, 2020

Transportation is an essential part of life. It enables large portions of the population to earn an income, get their children to school, travel to the grocery store, and go to doctors appointments. For many, mobility is a permanent and ubiquitous fixture of daily life — but this is not a universal experience. Where some have unerringly reliable access to transit, others lack it entirely.

This problem is called transportation inequity. Its causes are many, including lack of services, cost of services, and expense of vehicle ownership. In many cases, ridesharing or car ownership is simply too steep a cost, while others live in a “transit desert” — an area with no, or very few, public transit options.

Though the root causes of transportation inequity may vary, the outcomes are consistent and persistent. Where we see a lack of mobility, we also see fewer job opportunities, lower school attendance, and substandard access to medical care. Transportation inequity, like so many other forms of inequity, predominantly impacts underserved populations, including low-income communities, and communities of color.

This is a profound problem which demands profound change. Motional is committed to being a part of that change. We believe driverless vehicles have the potential to provide safer, more affordable and more accessible transportation, and we’re dedicated to creating a more equitable future.

This starts with our product development.

We’re not building the world’s safest driverless vehicles just for show. We’re building for you – your grandparents, your children, and your communities. We recognize transportation inequity is a multi-faceted issue that we won’t fully address in our first generation product, but we’re putting the work in now to ensure steady progress with each platform release. As the saying goes, “a little progress everyday adds up to big results” — and that work starts with gaining an in-depth understanding of mobility inequity.

Following Motional’s formation just a few months ago, we immediately launched our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program. The program is an important tool for educating ourselves on key issues in our cities, fostering important conversations among our colleagues, and most importantly, building a driverless vehicle to better serve our communities.

As part of the DEI program, we were thrilled to leverage one of our very own experts, Amitai Bin-Nun, to host an internal learning session. Amitai is a senior research scientist at Motional, and has extensively studied the societal impacts of autonomous vehicles. He previously served as the vice president of autonomous vehicles at Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), and co-authored the paper, Fostering Economic Opportunity through Autonomous Vehicle Technology.

Amitai hosted a robust discussion on the paper’s findings:

“The research we conducted at SAFE found that the current expense and inconvenience of transportation options play a major – and vastly underappreciated – role in perpetuating economic and racial inequities,” noted Amitai. “These findings highlight just how significant improved and cheaper transportation options would be for underserved communities. We know AVs have the potential to provide these options, underscoring the importance of Motional’s work.”

Amitai presented a detailed view of the many issues that stem from transportation inequalities – ranging from the financial burden of transportation costs to increased exposure to pollution – and how significantly improved mobility could impact communities. It was humbling, inspiring and unifying to see the potentially vast impact of our work.

We’re passionate about improving transportation inequity, and we’re transparent about not having all the answers. We know that we can’t go at this alone. That’s why we’re asking questions, starting conversations and looking to experts. We’re fortunate to have collaborative relationships with our government partners and are committed to working with them on these issues. We know Motional’s innovation, in conjunction with their policies, can create a smarter vision for mobility in our cities.

As Amitai said, “technology by itself is not a silver bullet, but a tool to open up possibilities.”

Motional was built on the idea of possibilities. We are, after all, a company making robot cars a reality.

Motional looks forward to continuing the conversation on transportation equity through our Building for Everyone blog series. Stay tuned to our channels for new posts.