Shaheen Earns NSF Award: Co-Creating Context-Sensitive Mobility Strategies for Advancing the Social and Economic Goals of Low-Income Communities

May 24, 2021

Congratuations to Transportation Sustainability Research Center Co-Director Susan Shaheen, who recently received a Stage 1 $50,000 NSF CIVIC Innovation award with E4theFuture, based in Massachusetts. Chosen from over 1,000 applications, about 25 transportation grants were awarded. With this award, the group will go on to compete for the Stage 2 $1 million award.

Figure 1This project will look at the spatial mismatch beyond the widely studied jobs and housing issue, where the high cost of living in areas with abundant employment opportunities has routinely forced those with lower incomes to reside farther from employment centers. It embraces other important daily challenges, such as access to healthcare, education, and food as raised by project partners that are directly engaged with low-to-moderate income (LMI) households. With this understanding, the project team will develop and test a new framework for context-sensitive assessment and co-creation of mobility strategies through robust community engagement. This entails the four key steps noted in Figure 1, leading to groundbreaking research of LMI decision-making related to transportation and job access.

Integral to the study, the group believes a rich understanding of the complex daily challenges faced by participants is a key starting point to co-creating strategies that help address mobility-related challenges and achieving participant objectives/goals. The team will also examine business models to understand cost and revenue structures to develop a financially sustainable system. This project will also develop a replicable process for co-creating mobility hub strategies through intensive community engagement including key educational components, such as supporting participant transport to apprenticeships, mobility training, and counseling.

In Stage 1, the team will execute the project through a combination of qualitative and quantitative instruments including focus groups, surveys, vehicle activity data analysis, and other secondary data sources to: 1) develop a mobility hub, 2) address key research questions, and 3) scope the research pilot evaluation. 

Research Questions:

  1. What challenges do LMI households face related to access to jobs, healthcare, food, and education? Are these challenges different for various socio demographic groups?
  2. . How are these challenges distributed spatially? How do LMI households perceive access to mobility as a way to address these challenges?
  3. How do LMI households make decisions surrounding transportation and finance? How do they prioritize transportation in light of daily challenges?
  4. Which mobility strategies best address the socioeconomic goals of LMI households?
  5. What business models (e.g., cost, revenue, and capital structures) are best able to support the longer-term financial viability of the identified mobility systems?

Project Team:

  •  E4TheFuture (E4) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of clean energy and economic fairness initiatives to help build a resilient, vibrant clean energy sector.
  • University of California – Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC)is a public research university located in Berkeley, CA with a deep expertise in transportation and mobility research. Susan Shaheen, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Berkeley TSRC and Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the Co-PI for this proposal, leading mobility-focused research and evaluation. Her work is supported by graduate and undergraduate students, along with Adam Cohen, Senior Researcher Manager, and Elliot Martin, Ph.D., R&D Engineer.
  • Boston University is a private research university based in Boston, MA.
  • Brown University is a private research university in Providence, RI, with a longstanding commitment to educational excellence and community service.
  • Building Futures Rhode Island (BFRI)is a 501(c)3 with a mission to meet employer and industry needs for skilled workers through the Registered Apprenticeship system, while creating family-sustaining career opportunities for low-income diverse community members.
  • Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve, create, and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security and access to opportunity for all.
  • NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV) is a community development corporation that works with residents, businesses, and neighborhood institutions to enrich neighborhood life and make affordable housing opportunities available throughout Northern RI.
  • Mobility Development Partners (MD) is a Chicago, IL-based mobility consulting firm.

Project Kick-off (Week 1): Host a kick-off meeting to discuss shared responsibilities and next steps.

Community Outreach and Existing Data Analysis (Weeks 2 through 4): The team will build its Context-Sensitive Mobility Assessment framework and create outreach meetings with community-based organizations and stakeholders; demographic and workforce data analysis; development of focus group protocol and survey instrument; submission to the Institutional Review Board.

Listening Sessions, Focus Groups (w/ Participatory Mapping), and Survey (Weeks 5 through 10): The PT will identify challenges and co-create mobility strategies with community listening session, focus group, and survey implementation; and begin Context-Sensitive Mobility Assessment.

Data Analysis and Finalizing Context-Sensitive Mobility Framework (Weeks 11 through 16): Survey analysis and business model development; final report that includes a draft evaluation model for the pilot and detailed final pilot design; presentation of results to the community.

By the close of the grant, the team will deliver a final report that: 1) is responsive to participant needs/ goals and reflective of community desires (a co-created mobility hub design), 2) demonstrates a pathway to financial sustainability (business model), and 3) develops an initial pilot evaluation plan (key metrics, research instrument, data identified); and 4) creates a framework/method and analysis/ tools to inform future planning, pilot projects, mobility business models, and research that can be replicated.