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Mobility Matters, Pt. I: Equity and Socioeconomic Factors

Mobility Matters, Pt. I: Equity and Socioeconomic Factors

Robert Hamsphire, PhD is an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan Ford School and research assistant professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS). As part of Nexus' new online professional certificate, Foundations of Mobility, Dr. Hampshire covers the social and behavioral implications of mobility, including the intersection between transportation and economic mobility, urban sprawl and segregation, and transportation equity. Dr. Hampshire addressed these topics and the impact of COVID-19 on transportation access and behavior during a recent conversation among U-M mobility experts.

On mobility equity, behavior, and economic factors, and how his course module addresses these topics:

The perspective I take in the module is that it's all about people. The fact that transportation and mobility connects people to social and economic opportunities, political engagements, and civic life means that the system we view as a mobility system is one that is connecting people to opportunity. Part of what we look at in the module are some of the factors that impact those connections and opportunities and also the barriers that we've seen over the years. Some of that has to do with land use and how particular neighborhoods are organized, how dense they are, what kind of opportunities are provided and how that impacts economic opportunity, and so on. Given COVID, people know what it means to not be mobile in some ways, so the module I'm teaching doubles down on the connection between mobility and people.

On the intersection between health, food security, and transportation access during COVID-19:

The perspective of this course is about the ecosystem and how it takes many different perspectives to view mobility as a system. Let's take food security for example. What we see is that because of a decrease in transit schedules, more people are getting food delivered. But not everyone has access to deliveries. So if your transit is dependent on the bus, and the bus schedule has slowed down dramatically, you might say, "I'll just order food." What about when folks don't have a smartphone or internet access? What happens to those folks now is that they may be more exposed to the virus than they may have thought? They might have to travel around on public transit to get to the grocery store and that increases exposure exponentially. There's a lot of intersecting overlapping issues that we see with COVID.

On the shift to remote work and its impact on mobility:

Oftentimes when people stay home to work, we think they may be traveling less because they're not going into work. But the travel data shows that when people work from home, they actually take a lot more trips locally around where they live. So actually, the number of trips taken per day may not decrease, they're just changing character. There's some interesting behavioral adaptations that people have, even if they work from home.

On consumer delivery and mobility trends:

[We've seen] an increase in the number of deliveries that people are getting to their homes. But the number of trips that people take to the store has stayed the same, and even increased in some cases. There's this paradox that people are ordering things online for delivery, but they're not cutting back from their shopping trips. It actually turns out that delivery times of different products vary by the social demographic income of the place that has been delivered. There are performance differences across neighborhoods based on socioeconomic factors. And so those things are even more amplified now.

On the critical importance of mobility systems: 

I want to leave everyone with the idea that the mobility system connects people to opportunity - be it economic, social, or civic life. In a way, that's critical infrastructure; not just the physical hard assets, but infrastructure for social engagement. Infrastructure for the way our economy works. The module I teach will really be focusing on some of the foundational concepts to help learners understand that and provide tools they can take forward.