Future Prairie Radio Season One, Episode Two: Equitable Ridesharing with Eric Johnson
One of the questions I love to ask people when I talk to them about the future is how they will know when the future has arrived. Will there be a certain marker or object or system that will indicate to them that we've really made it? A frequent refrain is about flying cars: "Once we have flying cars, I know it will feel like it's officially the future."
I find it interesting that transportation and mobility make up so much of our fantasy of futurism. We dream about better ways of getting around because we want to spend our time more prudently. We're looking for ways to spend less of our hard-won free time in traffic, and if we are going to be in traffic, we hope to find ways of being more productive, happy, or engaged while we're in there waiting to arrive at our next destination. For me, the future often feels like a destination. It has an elsewhereness; it's the promise of going somewhere, working towards something, keeping ourselves in motion, hanging onto a hope that it gets better.
One of the industrial shake ups that's changed how we look at making our systems better in the transportation space has been the advent of the sharing economy and the resultant shift away from car ownership to ride-sharing. In the United States, low-income citizens, minorities, teens, people with disabilities, and older adults typically have longer commutes and higher transportation costs. Ridesharing is seen as a potential solution to this inequity. Our best regional planners, policy-makers, non-profits are looking for ways to ensure that all their citizens can affordably access housing, jobs, healthcare, childcare and other essential services. Part of this depends on our support for the investment and production of equitable transportation-oriented development.
Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft offer a solution, but many people have factors that limit their access to ride sharing platforms. A primary factor, of course, is cold hard cash — whether or not you have enough to be able to afford a Lyft or an Uber to get you where you need to go. Many other accessibility factors come into play, some as basic as whether or not you can afford a smartphone and if you have a good data plan that will allow you to send and receive information quickly. Another is if you can see well enough to use an app on your phone that isn't designed with the visually impaired in mind. Another is if you have the manual dexterity to type in the address of where you want to get to. Another is if you have the familiarity with technology to understand how to use a ride-sharing app; for those who aren't digital natives, this might not be intuitive at all.
One of my biggest questions about the future is how we can include under-served communities in our grand visions, when we use new tools to fix old, broken systems within urban design, strategic economic development, social planning. When we look at the arc of history, class disparity comes up again and again as a thorn in the side of our biggest aspirations.
Our second podcast guest is Eric Johnson, who's talking to us about equitable transportation and a unique model of ride-sharing that's outside of the commercial model of transportation network providers like Uber and Lyft. Eric is a consultant for cities and counties; he helps them understand how to incorporate ride-sharing solutions into their communities. He's also the founder of the San Francisco Casual Carpool website.
If you're interested in learning more about equitable transportation, I encourage you to check out LivingCities.Org. Living cities is one of the best organizations I know that's working on class disparity. They work with some of the world's largest foundations and financial institutions to develop and scale urban design approaches that serve low-income people. Their investments and research support innovative, comprehensive, local approaches with real-time knowledge sharing. If you sign up for their newsletter, you'll find all kinds of ways to get involved.
If you're enjoying the podcast so far, I hope you'll consider checking us out on patreon.com. Much like your favorite public radio station, we survive on the support of a couple sponsors and our listeners who enjoy what we do! On Patreon, you can chip in a couple of dollars a month and help sustain Future Prairie. Your support will go directly to the production of our content. Patrons get first dibs on events, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, secret shop sales, discounts to community partners, & hot futurist music playlists. Consider becoming a patron today! Patreon.com/futureprairie
Our music for this show was mixed by DJ xCarlisax, a house DJ based in New Orleans. She is a member of our creative collective, and the weekly dance parties she helps host were recently written up on Noisey and Vice. You can hear a selection of her work here.
You can hear the full episode here.