What We’re Reading: Mobility in Natural Disasters

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: September 14, 2017



Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have highlighted the impossible list of challenges that communities face when it comes to natural disasters. Mobility has played a major role in these two major storms, both in the leadup, with complicated evacuation decisions, and in the aftermath, particularly for those who are low-income, older, and people with disabilities.

Mapping the mass exodus of Florida before Hurricane Irma shows the challenges that face any area trying to move millions of people out of harm’s way. But the bottom map within this article, which shows areas where over ten percent of the population doesn’t own a car, drives home the need for mobility service beyond highways to evacuate vulnerable communities, and do so more efficiently than by adding more cars. In addition, older adults also face unique barriers during evacuations, heavily depending on the institutions where they live to move them to safety.

In Texas, the lack of evacuation for Hurricane Harvey highlighted mobility issues from a different perspective. Even in cities designed for cars, it’s impossible to get everyone out in time, and trying to do so would likely endanger moving more vulnerable people in more immediate danger.

While Irma’s effects are still uncertain, the cleanup has already been underway in Texas, where a record number of cars were lost to the floods, and where essentials like gas are in short supply. This has created a space where public transit providers need to step in to ensure rebuilding improves mobility for vulnerable populations.

In San Antonio, where over a hundred gas stations have run dry, VIA Metropolitan Transit offered free rides on its network last Tuesday. Area gas stations were running out of fuel, and the transit agency waived fares, encouraging drivers to travel without their cars and save gasoline, while maybe even opening them up to the idea of using public transportation more often.

In Houston, a city frequently referred to as one of the most car-dependent in the United States, there is talk now that Metro, the city’s transit agency – which saved its fleet by adapting a maneuver from cities that deal with winter storms – could be the key to speeding up the area's recovery from the storm.

Bikes are also coming to the rescue to help now-carless residents restart their lives. Houston BCycle has launched Keep Houston Rolling, collecting donations of bikes to distribute for free to residents who have lost their cars. The groups involved hope to collect at least 500 bikes to give out, and do admit they hope it will fuel a more bike-friendly future as they rebuild.

Though recovery will be a long process, it is an opportunity for mobility managers to get involved in ways to improve connectivity for their communities, and can inform other providers and elected officials about how to prepare ahead of time for protecting their communities, and particularly making sure their vulnerable populations also have a way out.


Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Andrew Carpenter (carpenter@ctaa.org).

Image Credit: Daniel Oines, Flickr, Creative Commons


We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

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