What We’re Reading: Work the System

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: July 5, 2018

As the transportation landscape continues to shift, it can feel tempting to give into hype around new technologies that promise to solve every problem. No matter what technology promises, it is still critical to understand the built environment and how local systems and people operate within them in order to build an effective mobility management program.

For example, tracking the health outcomes of communities based on their mobility options shows a correlation between a lack of mobility and higher incidences of illness. Walkability, the most fundamental of mobility options, is one way to gauge local public health: a recent study shows that children in less-walkable neighborhoods have a higher risk for asthma. Poor mobility and poor health go hand in hand, and mobility managers should help to communicate this connection to their local decision makers.

Older adults in particular can suffer from poor health and isolation due to lacking mobility options. With more medical needs and mobility challenges – older adults often make up a larger percentage of local transit riders, and tend to require additional assistance and more costly trips. For those older adults covered by Medicare, they face additional barriers around affordability given that transportation is not a covered benefit under their insurance (unlike Medicaid which provides non-emergency medical transportation). However, at least one of these barriers may be changing. Recently, it was announced that starting in 2019, Medicare Advantage health plans will be able to cover non-medical benefits, such as transportation.  While insurers are still finalizing their upcoming plans for next year and the actual coverage changes are unknown, experts are clear on one thing – this shift is a big deal.

From a different perspective, it’s important for community leaders to understand the true roots of problems, rather than give into generalized perceptions. This is especially true when it comes to road safety, in which there have been plenty of campaigns blaming distracted pedestrians for the crashes that kill them. Yet studies are beginning to show that distracted pedestrians are a myth while phones are distracting drivers even when they are not actively in use.

While monitoring how systems affect mobility, it’s vital to keep an eye on real evidence, and keep decision makers focused on measurable outcomes when it comes to making big decisions. The increasingly popular term microtransit serves as a prime example. The concept is still looking for success in the startup world. Part of the problem, though, is that tech companies don’t necessarily understand the mobility networks they’re trying to disrupt. As a result, it might be time for public agencies to manage microtransit programs, since they better understand – and are motivated by – moving people.

Jarrett Walker presents an interesting perspective on how to redesign systems to better serve people. His report about a potential  redesign of Philadelphia’s bus system intentionally did not make concrete suggestions, but instead laid out different scenarios starting with “if” statements. Laying out scenarios and drawing them to their natural conclusions gives a better view of what various changes will cause, and is an interesting approach to holistic change that could be useful in other fields.


Image Credit: John M, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


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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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