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Driving Toward Sustainable Cities: How data will help reshape urban transportation and social equity

Why unleashing siloed data holds the key to improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in transportation  

This is the sixth blogpost in an ongoing series highlighting our commitment to the spirit of sustainable cities – those communities, companies and leaders developing new processes and technologies to address environmental impacts, social equity, public safety and transportation demands around the world. 
People in underserved communities are often unfairly impacted by transportation policies that unintentionally sustain barriers to social and economic advancement. Predatory parking citation issuance and collections, for example, can lead to penalties that result in inequitable economic impacts. Put simply, those families who can least afford fines and subsequent penalties, including vehicle impoundments, are often the most detrimentally impacted by them. 

Increasingly, city leaders and transportation officials are steering the design of transportation policies that advance social equity. Recent proposals in Los Angeles and New York City have sought to reexamine parking fines. In Chicago, city officials partnered with Conduent Transportation and leveraged data to optimize their parking operations and promote safety, reduce congestion and improve social equity. Their efforts reduced the share of citations in disadvantaged communities as well as majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. Further, Chicago’s efforts have reduced average fine amounts in marginalized areas. Federal initiatives, including a Federal Transit Administration grant program, aim to provide funding for projects that improve access to vital services for older adults, people with disabilities and those in low-income communities.

Data science is an iterative process, and the work to date has demonstrated how cities can use public data from a spectrum of agencies to gain actionable insights aligned with objectives to solve seemingly intractable transportation challenges. 

The art of the possible: How data can improve social equity

The potential to leverage transportation data as a resource to advance social equity is both vast and untapped. Integration with emerging technologies, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, promises to deliver far-reaching solutions empowering transportation agencies and their partners as they seek to shape the future of communities and ensure that our cities are convenient, fair and inclusive.

Take parking, for instance. When you rethink parking at the curb as a process — one that begins before a motorist puts the key in the ignition, the sources and availability of data surges. The process begins when a motorist contemplates the trip, and continues as they drive, search for parking, struggle to understand signs, locate a free space and then pay for parking. The process also includes consideration of parking tickets, including contesting fines that may be in error. Surprisingly, in some jurisdictions, disadvantaged motorists are much less likely to contest citations than wealthier motorists, and when they do, they are significantly more likely to be found liable. This inequity suggests there may be opportunities to improve access for marginalized residents as well as improve the quality of those challenges by better sharing hearing officer expectations.  

In our public safety photo enforcement business, we’ve analyzed where to distribute portable enforcement cameras to improve safety. Data scientists analyze a myriad of data points, including crash hot spots, excessive speed and proximity to schools and parks, and make recommendations for decision customization based on factor importance, weight and effectiveness. The result can impact policy decision-making for the unbiased deployment of resources — as well as improve fairness and safety.

In our tolling business, we are helping agencies implement programs to ease the financial burden of roadway tolls for motorists, benefiting low-income individuals and families. In one program, we offer payment plans for low-income motorists who have received toll violations designed to make paying off tolls, fees and penalties easier. Another program helps encourage drivers to avoid default and regain compliance through a violation penalty waiver. 

Several agencies are considering linking Health and Human Services eligibility data to offer fee assistance to be fairer and more equitable to the underserved.

Freeing siloed data drives equity in transportation

Data, especially those sets housed by public agencies and their partners, hold the potential to usher in the future of transportation solutions that solve complicated community challenges. 

For agencies, however, untangling, anonymizing and sanitizing data from multiple data warehouses and datasets is a complicated challenge. Effective solutions should involve partnerships that include data scientists who identify inequities that then empower officials and leaders to make changes in policies. 

Decentralizing these datasets is critical for dissolving bureaucratic barriers and fostering collaboration between agencies, their partners and the communities they serve. By doing so, a more thorough understanding of community needs can be achieved.

For agencies, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to data is no longer sufficient. Modern data solutions allow for nuanced consideration of socioeconomic conditions, demographics and historical data. Inclusivity is vital, necessitating community engagement strategies and incorporating diverse perspectives to avoid biases in the decision-making process.

As we navigate the complex landscape of urban living, it's clear that big data is not just a tool but a catalyst for social change. By harnessing the power of big data, transportation agencies can transform transportation mobility from a source of frustration to an example of equity. Fair and efficient transportation modes begin with decentralized, de-siloed data. 

Let's pave the way together. Discover how Conduent Transportation experts can help your city and communities converge data, advance social equity, and reduce congestion and harmful emissions now by visiting us online

About the Author

Barbara Roberts brings over 30 years of government IT contracting experience as an inventive and results-driven executive credited with developing new market businesses. She leads business growth strategies at Conduent Transportation which stems from her practical experience that combines the disciplines of executive management, sales/marketing, finance, operations, manufacturing, strategic planning, and systems integration. Barbara was a pioneer in the photo enforcement camera market with the first cameras in New York City and bringing the first U.S. digital cameras to market. As an expert in violations processing across photo camera enforcement, parking operations, and tolling operations, she’s currently an active member of IBTTA’s new DEI Committee as well as the Emerging Technologies Committee which is focused on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

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