Bridging the mobility gap
Mobility is the key enabler of the American dream.
For upper- and middle-class Americans, buying gas, paying insurance, and maintaining a car is within reach. Most purchase homes that are close to work and school, making it easy to be on time and create key social connections to move upward on their economic ladders.
But many low-income people don’t have reliable cars or available public transportation. Well-paying jobs are often far away from impoverished neighborhoods. Without the money or access to commute to work on time, people living in poverty have a harder time escaping their circumstances.
Even worse, people living with disabilities often have to wait up to two hours for a paratransit unit to get to their next appointments. Or worse, they are stranded.
A report by the Community Action Network in Austin, Texas, says access to public transportation, especially in low-income areas, affects everything from healthcare services to access to after-school programs.
ZIP codes dictate the likelihood of our success — not only for us, but also for our children. Parents who cannot stay and eat breakfast with their children, make it to their school plays, or arrive on time for parent-teacher conferences can affect their children’s achievements in and out of school.
The social mobility gap increases the risk of losing talented employees and future business leaders. In fact, one in seven young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are neither in school nor working, costing the government $93.7 billion in support and lost tax revenue. We cannot leave them behind.
We can either keep things as they are, or we can invest in new mobility structures that will not only help the isolated, but also society as a whole
How do we close the gap?
Opening new stores in poor and middle class areas (like Starbucks) or offering bike share programs across the country are both important first steps. And Safe Passage programs, like the one in Chicago, ensure students in dangerous neighborhoods make it safely home or to school.
But it still doesn’t answer the question of accessing areas outside of the inner city.
To remove the mobility gap, America needs a holistic approach with coordinated efforts from both the private and public sector. Individually, the government can approve dedicated bus lanes, businesses can offer flexible schedules, and nonprofits can provide assistance. But these three groups need to work together to make real progress.
Right now, many communities require that buses and a percentage of cabs accommodate wheelchairs in accordance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But a public-private partnership intent on improving technology would afford easy transport.
Instead of adapting buses and cabs with expensive retrofit equipment, the government can incentivize the private sector to create new technology to make the transportation process easier for this group. Being ADA-accessible isn’t as good as having technology platforms that send a specially outfitted vehicle — at a reasonable price — to take disabled people where they need to go.
And businesses that constantly fire employees because they can’t get to work on time lose both time and money. Those businesses, however, could work with the city to create mobility packages for employees — even those at entry-level — and drastically diminish its turnover rates. A business will end up paying one way or another, but only one option affords long-term employees.
A public-private partnership is the key to fixing this problem. Even when governments, businesses, and nonprofits don’t directly put new transportation infrastructure into disadvantaged neighborhoods, they can still free up resources that can be spent directly in those communities — and make more efficient use of existing infrastructure.
If the government doesn’t work with the flexible business and nonprofit sectors, then, as Robert Putnam demonstrated in “Our Kids,” the divide between those with and those without will only get worse. We must all work together to bridge the mobility gap.
Joseph Kopser is the co-founder and CEO of RideScout, an Austin-based technology platform created to increase transportation efficiency by getting people out of their cars and into other public, commercial and private options.