Sebnem Tugce Pala is a renowned Public Policy Professional and Entrepreneur for her work in sustainable
transportation/mobility and for her significant contributions to the field through her articles and her policy initiatives and the conferences she has attended until now. In a recent conversation with Urban Transport News, she talked about the various challenges and solutions pertaining to the mobility industry. Here are excerpts:
Before we begin, please tell us a little bit about your professional journey in the transportation industry?
My professional journey in the transportation industry started with my work experience at Iris Automation. Iris Automation as a top 100 AI start-up builds air collision avoidance systems for autonomous drones. I worked for their public policy and regulatory affairs team. Afterward, I started working for the policy initiatives team of Spin Electric Scooters (Ford Mobility). In October 2019, I joined UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) as a policy researcher. I did policy research on urban air mobility, automated driving systems, automated vehicle sources as well as mode split across transportation modes (e.g. shared mobility riders versus public transit riders) at TSRC. Since May 2020, I have been working for AmpUp. AmpUp builds peer to peer networks for electric vehicles and charges technology solutions for businesses. I am now leading public policy efforts of AmpUp and mostly focusing on state incentives and initiatives in the EV space.
What things inspired you to switch your career from non-transportation to transportation sectors?
Since my childhood, I have always wanted to contribute to the public good and touch upon people’s lives. My ultimate goal has always been to change the world for the better. I strongly believe that transportation is one of the fastest and the most efficient ways to change the world for the better. Regulations play a key role in the transportation sector. Given my prior work and study experience in public policy and my huge passion for sustainable transportation, I decided to switch my career from non-transportation to transportation sectors and I aim to be one of the thought leaders doing impactful work in this sector.
Do you think there was an uptake of MaaS (Mobility as a Service) last year? Please elaborate.
Yes, I think that there was an uptake of MaaS last year as technology companies in this sector have been growing rapidly. Über and Lyft have been dominating this sector lately. Based on Global Info Research’s study, the worldwide market for Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is expected to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of roughly 36.8% over the next five years, will reach 158000 million US$ in 2024, from 24100 million US$ in 2019. Nevertheless, MaaS has been hit by the COVID-19 crisis harshly and this has affected the growth of MaaS in a negative way.
Do we need all this tech to solve our transportation problems?
I wholeheartedly believe that technology is a great enabler to solve our transportation problems. Of course, there are other components such as infrastructure and policies. However, technology as a great enabler in the sector of transportation helps transform cities.
What role can MaaS and these new forms of transportation play in making transportation more accessible for all?
Based on my experience, I can easily state that most of MaaS companies’ core values are sustainability, accessibility, safety, and equity. They play a key role in serving unbanked populations, low-income users, and working with disability organizations. They are striving to provide sustainable, accessible, and affordable mobility for everyone. For instance, Bird as one of the leading micro-mobility companies offers discounted rides to low-income riders and Spin has provided nearly 15,000 free rides and 500 free helmets to more than 700 medical workers across the United States during the COVID-19 crisis and stood by the essential workers and provided accessible and affordable mobility for them.
What other things could be happening right now to make transport more accessible for everyone?
Infrastructure makes transport more accessible for everyone. Lack of infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods or rural areas hinders accessible transportation. The government should focus on building better infrastructure both in urban and rural areas for more accessible transportation for everyone. In 2020, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) developed an adaptive scooter pilot program to make shared micro-mobility more accessible to people with disabilities and four micro-mobility companies including Jump, Lime, Scoot and Spin are fully compliant with the unique adaptive scooter pilot program of SFMTA.
How do we make the process of designing transportation more inclusive?
Initially, government agencies and mobility companies should know how to work together efficiently to meet the needs of society. The government should be more responsive to different lifestyle needs and more accessible to low-income communities and communities of color. With the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris stated that 50 kilometers (30 miles) of lanes normally used by cars would be reserved for bikes and many Paris suburbs are also building new bikes lanes and this would lead to an increase in the use of bikes/bike-sharing. Increasing the usefulness of shared modes and growing more accessible transportation systems along with new infrastructure would be a good step for the process of designing transportation more inclusive.
What else can we do to showcase other voices within the industry?
I think that reduced fares and subsidized membership packages will ensure that everyone has access to transportation. Also, having lower barriers to new mobility options such as shared mobility, micro-mobility, and micro transit will be very helpful to showcase other voices within the industry as not everyone has access to the Internet or not everybody is using credit cards and smartphones.
How do we make sure that new forms of mobility are an attractive solution for people, beyond the one percent?
Most of the mobility companies are conducting education and outreach programs to better understand the needs of vulnerable populations (e.g., low-income households, people with disabilities, older adults, and underbanked households). They are also working with NGOs, advocacy groups, and community leaders to learn how to communicate with vulnerable populations efficiently and educate them on new mobility options. Providing documents in other languages and offering targeted discounts and promotions will be an attractive solution.
In addition, mobility companies, trade associations and NGOs should follow the government funding opportunities very closely. Recently, Forth Mobility has been selected for funding for the St.Louis Vehicle Electrification Rides for Seniors (SILVERS) Project from the U.S. Department of Energy for Advanced Innovative Vehicle Technologies. AmpUp will provide an EV charger sharing platform to serve fleet EVs, employees, and community members. This project aims to increase EV adoption and reduce transportation-related operating expenses for social service agencies and older adults living in low-income communities. Projects like SILVERS will help people, beyond the one percent, have access to sustainable, equitable, accessible, and affordable transportation.
What are your thoughts on the future of shared mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020?
I am sure that shared mobility will keep playing a great role in transforming smart cities which has affordable, equitable, accessible, and sustainable forms of mobility. In a post-COVID 19 crisis world, people will avoid using public transportation services and I expect to see an increase in the use of electric scooters, bikes as well as electric vehicles in 2020 and beyond. I also think that technology companies will come up with new mobility solutions and they will work harder on autonomous vehicle technology or eVTOLs (Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) or other urban air mobility solutions to solve air pollution and traffic congestion problems.