Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director-Smart Mobility, City of Austin

Austin Transportation’s Smart Mobility Office is looking to build capacity in the intersection of equity and innovation. Officially established in 2018, the Smart Mobility Office is an interdisciplinary team of mobility, technology, policy, data, and user experience experts who are working to deliver outcomes that can manage congestion, improve safety, and increase access to our transportation network for all Austin residents and visitors.

Austin has a history of systemic racism in which decisions related to transportation, land use, and infrastructure have resulted in the exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination of communities of color. East Austin has historically been subjected to structural and systematic racism dating back to Austin’s 1928 Master Plan which forced non-white residents to move to the East side. In April of 2019, Austin Transportation adopted the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan which works to combat racism and biases that lead to inequitable outcomes by calling for “all aspects of transportation decision-making to be examined through an equity lens and transformed to better serve all Austinites, especially those most harmed by past decisions”. The Smart Mobility Office within the department is looking to deepen their role in anti-racist work as it relates to the use of emerging technology and transportation.

In 2019, the City partnered with Ford Mobility on the City: One Challenge. The Smart Mobility Office, with the support of over a dozen community stakeholders, set the Challenge’s focus on racial equity and improving access to healthy living in the Eastern Crescent of the city. Through a lens of racial equity, the Challenge was able to discover technological solutions that focused on sustainable options for those with limited access to mobility services. That experience helped the Smart Mobility Office refine its own approach to equity and mobility for their future work.

 The Smart Mobility Office is committed to effective community engagement, which is needed to inform how to improve technology, increase user education, and lead to user adoption around emerging technology 

The Smart Mobility Office will be advancing mobility technologies that support Austin Transportation’s and City of Austin’s equity goals and will actively increase dialogue and engagement between private companies and communities of color. The Smart Mobility Office is committed to effective community engagement, which is needed to inform how to improve technology, increase user education, and lead to user adoption around emerging technology.

There is a great opportunity for racial equity work in this space as the Smart Mobility Office regularly partners with private companies to advance innovation. Innovation alone cannot solve issues around race, as evident in research conducted by Ruha Benjamin’s and Safiya Umoja that offer a range of examples of how technology and algorithms can increase and deepen inequity. However, through remaining aware of how emerging technologies can contribute to inequity, the Smart Mobility Office is committed collaborating with partners who understand this divide and will work with them to increase access to technologies to communities that are typically underserved and less engaged. Through public-private partnerships, the Office works to demonstrate how local government entities and the private sector can work together to combat inequity through increasing access to new technology as well as using emerging technology to address challenges of inequity in our city.

As Austin looks to pilot new mobility technologies, the Smart Mobility Office will be asking partners to commit to equity work through public engagement actives like demonstrations, workshops, and other outreach related events. Effective, inclusive, and intentional community engagement is crucial to understanding the public’s perception of new mobility technologies and their barriers to accessing that technology.

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