Event Recap: Zipcar Co-Founder on the Future of Urban Transportation

This guest post by the UEP initiative Cities@Tufts was first published on their official site. Read the original article, posted on Apr. 2, 2020, here.

The month of March was “Global Tufts Month,” during which events were held across Tufts showcasing the breadth and depth of global engagement at the university. This year’s theme was “Global Collaborations,” exploring how our connections across campuses and beyond shape our community, our learning and our impact. As part of this month-long celebration, Cities@Tufts hosted a lecture with Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the world’s leading car-sharing network.

Robin Chase is an entrepreneur, forward thinker, and advocate for bold action on climate change. In addition to co-founding Zipcar, she was a co-founder of Veniam, a network company that moves terabytes of data between vehicles and the cloud. She also recently co-founded her first nonprofit, NUMO, a global alliance to channel the opportunities presented by new urban mobility technologies to build cities that are sustainable and just. Her recently published book is Peers Inc: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism.

Robin’s lecture was titled “Heaven or Hell? Urban transportation is in full-on disruption.” It focused on global transportation trends, driving home the fact that we are now faced with a choice to either completely reshape cities to make them more livable, sustainable, and equitable, or to dive deeper into car-centric, congested, and unhealthy urban life.

Image credit: Cities@Tufts

She thoughtfully guided us through a brief history of transportation and argued that our lives are often rigged to travel by cars. The infrastructure of cities, the underpricing of cars and fuel, as well as the ease of owning a vehicle have all contributed to our current congested transportation reality. All this, while more than half of all car trips are less than three miles!

Robin is a fierce advocate of micro-mobility, a broad category that generally refers to light, single-occupancy vehicles like bicycles, e-bikes, scooters and electric scooters, and even skateboards. These modes have entered cities rapidly in recent years, often in the form of shared bikes and scooters. While these systems are not without criticism, their ridership is high in many cities, sometimes outpacing use of regular bikes by ten times. Along with other international NGOs, Robin helped develop the Shared Mobility Principles of Liveable Cities. These principles are designed to “guide urban decision-makers and stakeholders toward the best outcomes for all” when it comes to new shared transportation services and technologies. Robin highlighted a few principles in her lecture, including “plan cities and mobility together,” “focus on moving people, not cars,” and “automated vehicles must be shared.”

With more carbon emissions having been produced in the past ten years than the previous 100, and with 23% of those coming from urban transportation, Robin argues we are at a crossroads. She strongly urges that we rethink the status quo. She sees real potential in bike-sharing networks, with opportunities for employers to subsidize memberships. Robin also advocates for policies that account for the true environmental costs of vehicle ownership, such as volume tolls on vehicles (targeting large SUVs), dynamic pricing for parking, and reallocating curbs. She urges us to focus on city building, not highway building, and to wean our cities and ourselves off fossil fuel.

Considering how the world has essentially turned on a dime with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Robin is hopeful we could make the changes needed to avoid “transportation hell.” Only time will tell.

Cover image courtesy of Robin Chase/Cities@Tufts