Measuring Progress to Improve Equity
This is Part 2 of our interview with Art Pearce, the Policy, Planning and Projects Group Manager for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). Read more about how PBOT is collecting data from mobility service providers and using that data to inform improvements to the city’s transportation network in Part 1: Communicating Values and Setting Standards.
Move Forward: What role does data play in expanding transportation access and options for to underserved communities?
Art Pearce: The City of Portland intentionally integrates land-use and transportation planning to support the equitable growth of key places, specifically those that are historically underserved by civic investment. These are areas of the city that are both lagging in terms of infrastructure and are home to many people of color.
The promise of data really showed up in analysis for our Transportation System Plan, which included a scoring of all of our capital projects against policy objectives. From the data, we were able to weight which projects we thought should go first based on a variety of measures — one of which was equity. The data really pushed us towards investing in centers where we were seeing the most need.
Data helped us clarify our priorities, but it also helped us communicate with Portlanders about why we’re investing in particular areas. Based on the data, this is where we see the greatest need and the greatest opportunity.
Data is truly one of the most crucial tools we have to improve equity.
Move Forward: So how can you apply data analysis with the goal of improving equity?
Art Pearce: Let’s say we’re relying only on user complaints to drive our strategies — that we’re waiting to hear from people where there’s a lack of access to transportation options. If that’s the case, then we’re relying on feedback from a small number of people who feel entitled to tell government that they should do better.
There’s a large sector of the population that historically have not had a great relationship with government. Whether they are from another country or have always lived in the U.S., they may not feel comfortable or safe sharing their opinions about the quality of infrastructure or government services.
So, what a data centered approach allows us to do is simply look at the facts, see where incidents are happening and what areas are experiencing a lack of access. That’s super important. We wouldn’t have that information otherwise.
An example: PBOT required that scooter companies deploy a minimum of 100 scooters in East Portland — an area of the city that historically has seen less civic investment. After a period of time, we took stock and discovered that scooter deployments in East Portland were under the goal that we set. So, we used this dataset to enter into discussions with the scooter companies about increasing their deployments and within about a month they began to exceed the target.
Without accurate data, we wouldn’t have been able to know that scooter companies were underserving our most vulnerable population. This also resulted in rapid increase in usage in East Portland and clearer feedback from those communities that those streets need to be updated to make using new mobility options a safe and comfortable choice.
Move Forward: What else have you already learned from this new data?
Art Pearce: Knowing how people use transportation — understanding behaviors — has been incredibly eye-opening. For example, seeing scooter ridership by time of day at a fleet level is very useful. We now know that the PM rush hour is the peak timeframe for scooter use. So, the data tell us a story — that when we are experiencing the most congestion overall in our city, people are turning to scooters as part of the solution. People are looking for another, quicker, more efficient way home and they’re able to use the system. That’s a very useful and encouraging set of data. It’s pretty exciting.
Move Forward: NACTO recently released best practices for the access and management of mobility data. How do these standards align with PBOT’s approach?
Art Pearce: We were actually involved in drafting the Managing Mobility Data guidance, it was a great, collaborative process with NACTO and leaders from a number of cities across the country. These kinds of standards are needed to ensure cities have access to information about what’s happening on the streets, what might be the safety, health, equity, and environmental outcomes, as well as the distribution of people and resources.
We need to know where, when and how movement is occurring to be able to understand how the system is performing, and where market failures or externalities are occurring. As much as possible, we’ll be able to target interventions towards rewarding good behavior, incentivizing the positive outcomes we want to see, and identifying the companies that are most effectively helping us get to those outcomes.
Move Forward: What’s next as you look to the future of New Mobility transportation in Portland?
Art Pearce: Were in the process of finalizing our broader New Mobility Strategy which will identify a broad set of actions and I expect strengthen the importance of data in those innovations. For scooters, we’re in the middle of our year-long Scooter Pilot 2.0, and we’re producing a variety of new feedback loops. Some of the things we’re looking at are how to use geofencing to change riding and parking practices, product life-cycles, and trying to better understand the overall VMT (vehicle miles traveled) of operations — not just of the scooters, but also the vehicle trips needed for redeployment, collection and charging. The data will be important in showing us where there’s still work to be done, particularly around energy usage.
We’re also looking at how best to partner with mobility companies to help achieve the city’s transportation goals by offering an incentive of increasing fleet sizes as companies demonstrate progress toward specific targets. There’s been considerable responsiveness to the initial incentive frames around environmental and equity impacts, so there is a lot of potential for greater collaboration in the future. Overall, better data can help us offer all Portlanders greater choices for getting around this awesome city.