Urban Mobility and Equity Research

Combining an urban-systems framework with micro-urban social typology, NREL is examining unequal socio-spatial contexts shaping mobility, energy use, and sustainability.

Photo of electric bus stopped at side of road in city. The bus is parked under an overhead charging unit.

Understanding how mobility opportunity plays out across socio-spatial differences is an important step in enacting transformative changes. For example, electric vehicles (EVs) offer a transformational solution to decarbonize transport, but true equitable transformation takes more than technological innovations.

NREL research shows that if EVs continue to serve the mobility needs of early adopters, then transportation innovations will primarily serve wealthy and suburban populations who have the resources to afford EVs (or any car, for that matter). This suggests that increased emphasis on EV adopters may overlook the wider spectrum of mobility needs of working class and minority populations, including electrification of transit and micro-mobility. By addressing these, we can more equally and inclusively decrease emissions, reduce congestion, and improve the health of people and ecosystems.

A diagram on a blue grid background with icons that illustrate human behavioral factors that can account for individual mobility decisions, ultimately affecting the ability to decarbonize modes of personal transportation.
Technological, policy-focused, and governance solutions alone will not be sufficient to achieve full decarbonization of the transportation sector. NREL’s research strategy recognizes that human behavior is at the core of individual mobility decisions and accounting for behavioral factors across diverse populations is vital to enable deep decarbonization and support sustainable, equitable, and resilient energy transitions. Illustration by Josh Bauer, NREL


A Data-Driven Mobility-Energy Typology Framework for New York StateEnvironment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science (2020)