Can Sharing Economy Platforms Increase Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations in Disaster Response and Relief? A Case Study of the 2017 and 2018 California Wildfires

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Authors: Stephen Wong, Jacquelyn Broader, and Susan Shaheen

Date: June 2020


Ensuring social equity in evacuations and disasters remains a critical challenge for many emergency management and transportation agencies. Recent sharing economy advances – including transportation network companies (TNCs, also known as ridehailing and ridesourcing), carsharing, and homesharing – may supplement public resources and ensure more equitable evacuations. To explore the social equity implications of the sharing economy in disasters, we conducted four focus groups (n=37) of vulnerable populations impacted by California wildfires in 2017 or 2018. To structure these data, we employed the Spatial Temporal Economic Physiological Social (STEPS) equity framework in an evacuation context. We contribute to the literature by: 1) summarizing the focus groups and their opinions on the sharing economy in evacuations; 2) capturing wildfire evacuation obstacles through the STEPS transportation equity framework; and 3) linking STEPS and focus group results to explore the future potential of shared resources. Using STEPS, we also expand our shared resource exploration to 18 vulnerable groups.

We found that all focus groups were highly concerned with driver availability and reliability and the ability of vehicles to reach evacuation zones, not necessarily safety and security. Each group also expressed specific limitations related to their vulnerability. For example, individuals with disabilities were most concerned with inaccessible vehicles and homes. Using the STEPS framework, we found that while multiple vulnerable groups could gain considerable benefits from shared resources, 10 of the 18 groups experience three or more key challenges to implementation. We offer several policy recommendations to address equity-driven planning and shared resource limitations.

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Posted on

June 15, 2020