Equity Through Electric Bicycles

Photo of Jackson Nutt-Beers

In this week’s blog, we hear from Jackson Nutt-Beers ’21, graduate student in the MA Urban and Public Affairs program (UPA), who reflects on his summer internship at the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), researching regulations for ride hailing and food delivery companies, while keeping in mind the realities of this year, from the pandemic to protests against police brutality.

During my second semester in the Urban and Public Affairs Master’s program at the University of San Francisco, my community engaged research methods class was provided with an opportunity to affect urban change in collaboration with a local city commission. Working directly with Bryan Goebel, the Executive Officer of the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), my class provided a comprehensive report on what a variety of regulatory policy suggestions of transportation network companies would look like in San Francisco. At the conclusion of the spring semester, I had the opportunity to join LAFCo as a research associate for the summer to continue working on research to regulate ride hailing and food delivery companies, which I was pretty excited to do.

Over the summer, I had the privilege to work directly with Bryan to understand how the City and County of San Francisco could establish an electric bicycle rebate program for food delivery workers, and eventually all San Franciscans, that would help the city mitigate traffic congestion, increase mobility, and help achieve the city’s environmental goals. In a survey commissioned by LAFCo and conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, surveyors found that the majority of food delivery drivers don’t earn enough money to make ends meet, and are not compensated for the wear and tear that inevitably happens in an industry that is reliant on the worker’s own personal vehicle. Many of the food delivery and ride-hailing drivers indicated that they would switch to an electric bicycle if provided with a financial incentive.

Two people cycling on electric bicycles

Though we were still navigating Shelter-In-Place orders, an unknown virus, and seeing massive protests across the country in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I really wanted to make a difference this summer to address the very real needs of food delivery drivers and low-income, underserved communities. When conducting my interviews with industry professionals, electric bicycle rebate program administrators, city department heads, and community members, I made sure to maintain an equitable lens to understand how these programs are actually serving the most vulnerable communities. I felt by maintaining this lens and asking questions surrounding equity, I was making sure I was not letting myself get off track from the goals I set for this project and bringing awareness to underserved communities who would greatly benefit from access to other modes of transportation.

This internship really helped me open my eyes to understand where inequity exists, and how underserved communities are often cast aside during times of economic downturn and global pandemics. I recognized that it if someone truly wants to affect positive change through public policy, it is imperative that underserved, low-income, and racial minority communities are put at the center. Though the research for this project is ongoing, this internship had a tremendous impact on how I conduct myself and my future work in the Urban and Public Affairs field.

Interested in exploring admission into our graduate program for 2021? Read more from previous UPA students here!

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