Usually, we talk about technology here in the Mobility Report newsletter, but this week marked a big leap in mobility that had nothing to do with tech: Women in Saudi Arabia finally got the right to drive.
At midnight June 24, women in Saudi Arabia took out their keys and celebrated their newly won rights. Some gathered to celebrate. Some flew balloons out their moonroofs as they coasted down the street. Some packed their cars with family and friends. More than 120,000 women applied for driver's licenses Sunday, according to CNN. These women are ready to move.
It's kind of jarring to write and talk about the future all of the time and then confront the present reality. While the media and industry focus on high-tech things such as self-driving cars, ride-hailing services and whether Uber will ever really have the flying taxis it has promised, there are people all over the world who don't have good ways to get around.
Bill Ford, Ford Motor Co.'s executive chairman, has said that he sees mobility issues not just as a transportation problem to solve, but a human rights issue. He has said the automaker will invest in technologies that will address looming societal crises. One of the initiatives Ford is undertaking involves helping elderly and disabled people make it to doctor's appointments.
For poor people in the United States, lack of access to reliable public transportation keeps them struggling. The New York Times wrote about a Harvard study that shows that the longer a county's commute time is, the less likely poor people will be able to move up the ladder.
Lots of new transportation options miss wide swaths of the population. For one, how can you use Uber if you don't have a credit card? Or a cellphone? How can you use carpooling apps if you don't have access to apps in the first place?
It's easy to focus on the whiz-bang features of new technology. To fret about whether Elon Musk will hit his production goals. To debate whether autonomous cars will be here in 2021, 2031 or 2041. But there are also many societal problems these technological solutions can help fix, and it would be a huge missed opportunity to forget that.
And there are also many nontechnological solutions to problems, like the women in Saudi Arabia showed us this week.
— Sharon Silke Carty