Chicago Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot faces the kinds of challenges common to most major urban areas, including an aging infrastructure and public transportation system. Yet these challenges also present opportunities to change Chicago through a mobility ecosystem that meets the needs of its diverse neighborhoods. Mayor-Elect Lightfoot’s ability to connect and empathize with the communities of Chicago will be essential to creating a mobility experience that people love. I call this approach compassionate mobility.

The Mobility Opportunity

In major American cities, transportation systems and taxis exist alongside ride-sharing services, scooter rentals, bike rentals, and other services — all of which are compelling civic leaders to re-examine what it means for their citizens to get from one place to the next for work and pleasure. The issue of mobility has multiple impacts, among them social and environmental. On a broad level, cities that crack the code for providing multi-modal transportation systems are best prepared to attract business and talent, according to Future Mobility Competitiveness Index (a predictive metric of a city’s ability to compete and distinguish itself using the new technologies in a seamless, integrated network). That’s because mobility systems, when incorporated thoughtfully and with the citizen at the center of the experience, can make cities smarter, more green, and more responsive to people.

At the same time, mobility poses issues. For example, cities have raised concerns about an uptick in scooter rentals creating safety hazards. And Chicago city officials say that an increase in ride sharing has increased congestion and decreased usage of rapid transit.

The Mobility Task Force Report

In 2018, Chicago formed a mobility task force to address myriad issues related to mobility. The task force issued a report in March discussing a way forward for mobility in the city. The report recommends that the city:

  • Streamline governance and management of transportation systems and policies within and across City departments, agencies and private sector.
  • Develop uniform, detailed and secure data-sharing requirements between public and private entities.
  • Support investments in transportation infrastructure to meet the City’s mobility goals.
  • Encourage mode shift to right-sized capacity and increased passenger mile efficiency.
  • Build an accessible, affordable and convenient multi-modal transportation system.
  • Advance a transportation and mobility system that promotes the environmental health and sustainability and improves overall livability of the city.
  • Prepare Chicago for connected and automated vehicles.

The task report suggests some specific actions, too. For example, the task force recommends that Chicago establish uniform and transparent data-sharing between public and private organizations. “A data-sharing and system integration model should realize the potential for mobility payment, pricing, and trip planning to be integrated and centralized in various ways; and provide for safe and easy testing, implementation and licensing of new mobility methods and leverage date to better manage infrastructure, improve planning and expand access,” according to the task force’s report.

“How Might We?”

Mayor-Elect Lightfoot has gone on record with a report of her own that emphasizes improving rapid transit (including electrifying the city’s bus fleet) and reducing congestion caused by ride-sharing services. Her report demonstrates a commitment to making mobility accessible and affordable to as many citizens as possible, including residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods, where access to rapid transportation is essential. Her report is not just about making Chicago more efficient by providing as many transportation options as possible – she also demonstrates empathy for the underprivileged (especially through her emphasis on bus service) and the working-class citizens (such as taxicab drivers whose livelihoods are threatened by Lyft and Uber). She has created the foundation for compassionate mobility. As she incorporates the findings of the task force’s report into her own vision for Chicago, a number of compelling questions emerge – questions that suggest an exciting future. For example:

  • Most importantly, how will Chicago stay focused on solving the needs of its diverse population through mobility? Put another way, how might Chicago embrace compassionate mobility? Any solution for mobility services must include the voices of the various citizens who are most affected by Chicago’s future ecosystem.
  • How might Chicago partner with myriad stakeholders in the mobility ecosystem to re-imagine a new city where social good and environmental priorities take precedence? And potential players in the ecosystem are large in number. For example, Startup Whim seeks to help people make mobile transportation easier via a single app (to name just one of the players converging around mobility in the public sector).
  • How might Chicago evolve as ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber expand their charters beyond car-focused services? As we have blogged, Lyft is rolling out multi-modal services such as bike-sharing services.
  • How might Chicago continue to evolve technology to support integrated mobile services ranging from booking rides to paying for rapid transit?

These are only some of the obvious “how might we” questions that the city needs to consider. Understanding all the questions, and answering them, will entail mapping out a solution that incorporates the entire ecosystem mentioned above – an ecosystem focused on serving the needs of its vibrant tapestry of neighborhoods. The city may well apply lessons learned from organizations that live and die by their ability to build ecosystems. Apple’s long-term success, for instances, hinges on the ecosystem it has built to launch products and services. And by their nature, commercial marketplaces need ecosystems to survive. These private-sector ecosystems are relevant to the public sector. They rely on the same principles of interconnected people, processes, and platforms that need to mesh well.

How Design Sprints Can Help

Fortunately, tools exist to help address these weighty questions, especially by making mobility a compassionate solution. For example, four-day design sprints make it possible for multi-functional teams to rapidly test new ideas against customer feedback. If done correctly for the public sector, they bring together citizens from different neighborhoods and backgrounds to co-create solutions that support the entire city, not just a small segment.

In fact, at Moonshot, we’ve been helping the Office of the City Clerk for Chicago design a better way for citizens to obtain vehicle registration stickers. We’ve used design sprints to test new services in a way that mitigates cost and risk to the city while serving the needs of the entire city. I discuss this work on a recently published post, “Making City Government Easier Than a Starbucks.” We’ve helped the city prototype an approach that simplifies the renewal process and makes city service more user friendly.

The City That Creates a Future

For many decades under Major Richard J. Daley, Chicago was known as the city that works. Under Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot, Chicago has an opportunity to become the city that creates the future.

Contact Moonshot for more insight into how Chicago can lock arms with its citizens and multiple stakeholders to embrace a new future.


Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product