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Mobility vs. transportation: The difference is equity and access

City scene with blurred images of bike, taxi, car and bus
Christian Mueller

This essay was adapted from the Mobility Weekly newsletter, formerly known as Transport Weekly. The newsletter's name was changed Aug. 24 to reflect a shift in focus for the transportation and infrastructure sessions at VERGE 21.

Earlier this year, our team made the decision to rename the VERGE Transport conference to VERGE Mobility, and the transition of the newsletter name is in line with that move. We’re making space for a brand-new conference in the VERGE 2021 program, VERGE Infrastructure. In addition to transportation-related topics such as highways, ports (both air and sea) and railways, infrastructure can also refer to waste and water management, smart-city applications of data, the electricity grid and issues such as education, housing and health care (often referred to as "social infrastructure").

You can think of infrastructure as the foundation upon which modes of mobility move, in relation to the transportation sector. The inclusion of this conference will allow the mobility team to continue going deep on topics related to electrification and decarbonizing the transportation sector, while also being more inclusive of emerging tech and urban mobility players.

What’s the difference between transportation and mobility?

I love this concise, clear definition from Forum for the Future: "Transportation (‘across-carry’ in Latin) describes the act of moving something or someone, whereas mobility (‘capable of movement’) describes the ability of a person to move or be moved."

Mobility Lab, based in Arlington, Virginia, takes this definition further: "Mobility isn’t just having access to one mode of transportation. Mobility is having transportation options, and the quality of those options."

In short, the difference between transportation and mobility is the difference in a focus on equity and access — reflecting our mission here at GreenBiz to accelerate the just transition to a clean economy.

Which brings me back to my article from last week …

I want to take a moment to clarify a few things from "My EV learning journey." Some readers have responded that their impression from the article was that I don’t like my electric car. This was not the intention of the article.

First: We’ve really enjoyed our Nissan Leaf. In addition to being the most comfortable (budget-friendly) car we have been in, it’s a great family car. It boasts a spacious interior; it’s small enough to squeeze into most any parking spot or shared garage (very important in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles); and it has lots of room in its hatchback trunk; awesome connectivity features; and excellent safety ratings

In fact, I’ve always had a fondness for Nissans. My very first set of wheels was my parents’ passed-down 1998 Nissan Quest. Far from embarrassed about being a 16-year-old driving a minivan, I sported this shirt in the halls of my high school. 

It’s true that I don’t like that in order to keep an EV affordable for most families such as my own, the car lacks a battery cooling system, which turns out to be a must-have with ever-rising, record-breaking global and local temperatures. 

I don’t like the lack of regional charging (and maintenance) support for a car that not only has been around for more than a decade but has over 148,000 people driving them in the U.S. alone. Federal and state funding for building EV charging infrastructure needs to ensure that grantees install and maintain systems equipped to charge all EVs on the road. Dealerships and auto shops need to have more than just one person on staff who is educated about EVs and is able to work on them.

The heart of the matter is equity and access. We have a long way to go in terms of EV battery and charging technology, infrastructure, supplying and equipping the necessary workforce, and basic education of both buyers and sellers. I look forward to deeply discussing these topics with experts in the field at VERGE 2021, and I hope you’ll join us (registration is open).

[To learn more about transportation & mobility marketplace news, trends & analysis, subscribe to our free Mobility Weekly Newsletter.]

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