As Transportation Transforms, Cities Explore Equitable Mobility
As cities across the U.S. struggle with falling transit ridership, the National League of Cities is urging them to seize the moment by serving more riders, like the poor and “unbanked.”

Many cities are already thinking about how technology can be used to marry traditional and newer forms of multimodal transit, while at the same time ensuring these solutions are equitable across the entire population.

“The good news is that the majority of large cities are thinking about equity. And cities are uniquely positioned to lead the nation into more equitable outcomes,” said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director for city solutions at the National League of Cities (NLC).

Rainwater was responding to a recent report by the NLC titled “The Future of Equity in Cities,” which explored issues like transportation, housing and economic development.

With an eye toward serving more riders with multimodal systems, researchers insist on the need to develop these new ideas for everyone, including the disabled, riders with little access to technology and the unbanked — users who lack bank accounts to link up to mobile-ticketing apps and other popular forms of transit technology.

“The one point that I would always make is that technology is a tool, and should not be the end result,” said Rainwater. “As we’ve had more wealth kind of go back into cities, and we’ve had good and bad outcomes as a result of that with displacement and other issues, I think this is top-of-mind for city leaders, and there’s a real opportunity to think about how it is that we’re lifting everyone up within our communities, rather than leaving people behind."

Transit ridership dropped 3.1 percent nationwide in 2016, compared to 2014, a record year for ridership on public transit in the United States, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). And the trend seems to be continuing. Ridership is down 2.9 percent for the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period a year ago.