Women in Shared Mobility: Interview with Nadia Anderson, Ph.D. – Government Relations, Cruise

This month on the ‘Women In Shared Mobility’ series, our CEO Sandra Phillips interviewed Nadia Anderson, Ph.D. – Government Relations, Cruise.

Nadia Anderson, Ph.D. is a member of Cruise’s government affairs team. Prior to joining Cruise she led Uber’s global public policy work on road and traffic safety, and has spent the majority of her career working on policy issues related to technology, mobility and equity. She’s worked with all levels of government, both domestic and international, and at major corporations like AAA and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance for Automotive Innovation).

Dr. Anderson is motivated by the belief that equitable access to mobility options is requisite for building cities and communities that are fair, resilient and prosperous. She holds a doctorate in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware, and is also a graduate of Virginia State University and the University of Virginia. Dr. Anderson is a native Virginian and currently resides in San Francisco, California. 

If you missed our WiSM interview last month, you can find it here. Want to have a look at all of Women in Shared Mobility interviews? View the entire category here.

Women in Shared Mobility: The key to successful mobility in the future – Diversity, Equity & COLLABORATION

The Interviewee:

Nadia Anderson, Ph.D. Government Relations, Cruise

Nadia Anderson 1

The Interviewer:

Sandra Phillips, chief executive officer, movmi

ceo movmi


Before we begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?


Thank you for having me, I’m super excited to be here and looking at the organization, I’m very attracted to anything that’s looking to represent more women and have especially more people of color in the conversation. So I’m thrilled to be here. A little bit about myself is, I’m currently a member of Cruise’s Government Affairs team for those who aren’t familiar with the company, we are working to introduce a fully electric self-driving car service to the transportation mix. I’ve been working in the space of mobility technology and transportation for a little more than a decade, banning public private and non-profit sectors and by training I have a doctorate in urban affairs and public policy. I entered the field doing work at the grassroots level starting neighborhood associations understanding the needs of people on the ground and working to bring their voices to the table, when we think about legislation and policy.


What changes have you seen in last decade when it comes to enabling these super high tech new forms of transportation?


The world has changed six times since I’ve been working in the field. I started out working in the automotive industry doing research and technology policy and the big thing was cafe. Everybody was working on how to introduce innovative technologies into the vehicle fleet. Getting people to understand the difference between an electric vehicle an internal combustion engine and then also looking at renewables and that was cutting edge at the time.

Before I left D.C. and moved to San Francisco, which was about 2016 or so, I was working at AAA and the new thing was this concept of self-driving cars and automation. So in D.C. we were talking and thinking about these things are coming in two decades. We have 20 years to prepare, so let’s think about how to incorporate these things into the vehicle fleet. Then I moved out to San Francisco and realized that they were companies who actually had self-driving cars out on the road.

So clearly everybody’s frame of mind and point of reference had to adjust considering how fast things were moving. I’ve also seen there be a little bit of attention going from people who are very car centric at one point in time to looking at other modes and methods for getting around. There was a big push for more transit in densely populated urban areas so figuring out ways to have transit services better serve people and the needs for when they want to travel, where they’re getting to during the weekends and sometimes off-peak hours. Then there was an introduction of bikes, so you had those stationary bikes that were placed all around cities where you can join with a membership and ride around town for dollars an hour or dollars for a day depending on your membership subscription and we thought that was game changing and revolutionary because cities are now saying that, ‘we don’t have bike lanes but people want to ride bikes maybe we should start building them and incorporating them into like the built physical infrastructure.’ Now we saw the dockless bikes and scooters kind of come those shared models that are sometimes electric depending on who’s owning the company and how they’re working and having those also enter into the fleet and then not to mention the introduction of rideshare.

I remember back in the day, even though it wasn’t that long ago, before the big names of Uber and Lyft existed, trying to figure out how to get around town relying solely on one means of like taxi or a car service, to being able to use your phone and call it. A ton has changed in a very short amount of time especially if you think about, historically, how long it took for things like seat belts to be incorporated into vehicles or review cameras to become like a standard feature in many cars.

We’ve seen things grow in that hockey stick type of growth, where things have changed rapidly. New entrants are figuring out how to solve problems and issues and people are trying to figure out how to work and make the overall system more efficient and inclusive at the same time. It’s been a good amount of change and in a little amount of time and I’m expecting things like that to continue.


Is there something that you find really interesting that has happened during the pandemic, with all this change, that you hope we can keep moving forward?


The thing that I found to be most interesting is how the will of the people can put policy on an expedited timeline. I think everybody was kind of caught off guard by Covid and how it would change everything, but cities had to adapt, people had to adapt, people had to think about how to travel ways to get around and you had to move quickly because you needed a solution sort of immediately and not in a normal time frame, where it takes for planning. A number of places nationwide started reclaiming streets so turning things into car free zones in order to allow for safe social distancing, but also to promote other means of travel, so being able to walk more and get that exercise and things that weren’t happening, as everybody was sheltering in place and those things were ideas that have been contemplated for years but they needed the perfect storm of things to come together to make the change happen rapidly.

I hope that moving forward we continue to let the will of the people and how people engage, continue to spur and push, not only policy, but technology, to move a little bit quicker and also to be more reflective of the needs and the situation on the ground. I think also people are becoming more vocal and engaged in those things, so a lot of active calling on reclaiming streets, a lot of calling on, and highlighting, the fact that people are having challenges with existing and legacy systems, and trying to figure out how to make sure that they’re included, because now the stakes are higher. People have limited options for being able to move so they need to be able to have their voice at the table, which means they also push a little bit harder for it.

I think both cities and policy and the companies working on it have also become more responsive to that need, so listening to what the demand is out there, how consumers are thinking about things, what their needs are, figuring out what the pain points are and then trying to figure out how to ease those things in order to become more efficient.think that time has shown that in the future, we can move quicker and regulation takes a really long time. It takes a long time for a reason so you need to be thoughtful, you need to make sure if you’re going to codify something and put it in place, that it’s not outdated by the time you put it on the ground.

This has shown that there’s a way that you can kind of do both things. You can have the regulation move, you can have those processes and policies in place that are in there for a reason, but you also can figure out a way that you could operate inside of those things like you don’t have to wait until it’s totally done and wait to do it. You can incrementally put things in place and experiment and see how people respond to it. You can also change to the meeting needs of the people that’s happening on the ground, so change how people think about things and how they would want it? It may make sense to turn this space into an urban market or to reclaim that land, so kids have a place to play, but when the season changes, you may need to change the use of that land into something else and then finding a way where you can be nimble, still respect the permits and the zoning and codes but figure out a way that you can innovatively meet that need or figure out the different people and parties you can bring to the table to fill a gap while the public sector is working on something. To sort of make sure that people aren’t left without what they need.


What do you think is the risk with these super agile changes?


It’s a fine balance that needs to be had, because a lot of times the most vocal may not be totally representative of what’s there. I think the other thing that this pandemic has brought to life for many, was systemic racism and the fact that there are a lot of people who are excluded from the conversation. What’s encouraging to me is to see that while we’re looking to move and solve these problems, people are also thinking and looking at who’s around the table and identifying who’s missing and then taking that extra step to make sure that there’s outreach being done in those communities and those people do have the opportunity to have their voices there.

Working on equity in its purest form, sometimes you have to take a little bit of an extra step to make sure that people who are marginalized or excluded by the system or excluded by legacy systems that are in place, have the opportunity to be brought to the table. I think that in doing so you also have people who are traditionally at the table thinking about and reaching out to others, who they may not have thought about reaching out to before, because now it’s top of mind for many. We saw when people were looking to get more women executives in the place you had allies who were saying, ‘I know somebody who would be great let’s make sure they have a chance’ and I think that same thing is happening now but they’re looking at it through a race and ethnicity lens, so they’re saying ‘we don’t have anybody black at the table, we don’t have anybody representing the LatinX community, here let’s figure out who we should talk to.’

A personal example of that is a lot of times, because of the nature of my work, not only like my current day job but some of the boards that I sit on, we put together letters saying how transportation should be thought about. This is how we should be thinking about moving forward and for me anytime I see a piece that’s focused on equity or environmental justice, the first question I ask is ‘who from the equity or environmental community have you talked to specifically? Do they know that you’re doing this? Do they know that you’re writing on their behalf?’ and then also being able to leverage networks of people who I know or people who may know someone, to say you should reach out to this group to make sure that they understand and they are agreeing or they can give you feedback and you should incorporate what it is that they say because sometimes too, we want to do the right thing, we want to make sure that we are doing something that we feel is for the better and the benefit of everyone, but we’re missing a voice and it may actually do harm if it’s not crafted appropriately. 

Another conversation that I see popping up more, that is also you know heartening to me, as I think about how our communities and cities are beginning to move forward, is when you talk about this mobility option, there’s a lot of conversation about the desire to get people out of their personal car. To remove the need for personal car ownership and there was an interesting conversation that the SF Bicycle Coalition had recently onbike lanes gentrification and anti-racist behavior. In short they were essentially saying that argument is not something that is totally reflective of an entire community of people who may depend on their vehicle.

So you need to figure out how to make sure that their voices are heard and that you’re not doing any harm. We all want cleaner air, we all want safe travel but also recognize that coming after somebody’s personal vehicle because it works for you, may not be the total answer and solution, so you need to make sure that those things are considered when you’re crafting these policies and thinking about how to design networks and transportation systems in the future and I think that wasn’t something that was happening before Covid.

I think people now are also making sure that they’re doing their due diligence to make sure that they’re not overstepping and that they are making sure that people who are directly impacted by this, those especially who haven’t been at the table before, are now being able to be included and have their voices considered and actually incorporated into these planning goals, that we have out there for the city.


Have you seen anything over the past decade that shows a successful combination of community engagement with building and development?


You have to be cautious of that performative allyship where you reached out, you’ve heard them but you’re not actually acting on anything that was said. I’ve seen it play out a number of times in my work and iI am hoping that somebody smarter than me, some academic somewhere is figuring out what the perfect formula is for doing it. Observationally, what I’ve seen is that you have to make the case in many ways and then you also have to get back to that grassroots policy piece. When I say ‘make the case’ is you have plenty of people working on these solutions and they’re they’ve established their method of operating, they’ve established what they feel like the right measures are and so now you’re bringing somebody to the table that wasn’t there and a lot of times what they’re going to do is challenge the foundation that you sit on.

I think that as people, working in the field, we have to be open to our foundation being challenged and at times being open to also starting from scratch and recognizing that we had this grand idea that was built on our own personal experience and therefore reflects our own bias and if we want to do better and if we want to be different, we have to go back to start from scratch and do that. I think we have to be open to those ideas, I think we also have to be open to sometimes slowing down a little bit when it comes to it. I know I talked about how I like seeing things move kind of fast but also you do have to be prudent when you’re thinking about how you put things in place. If you recognize that your premise is wrong, you have to maybe slow down and think about if there’s a way that you can incorporate that in. When I say making the case is that business as usual has always produced the same result and so you have to also figure out ways to show that acting differently can have a different impact and a greater impact, because fundamentally we all want to do the right thing, we all want to have that positive impact but we don’t have a lot of examples as to why and how these changes and these flight alterations can yield a different impact.

It’s a conversation that’s beginning to pop up, how we measure performance and how we show and impact. I  will say that we need to start thinking about research and measuring those things differently because now we’re taking a different approach. The same types of metrics that we may have relied on before to show impact and efficacy of a program may also need to be interrogated and expanded to include other things that may be more qualitative in nature.

An example would be high level marketing. There’s a certain way that you go out and that you speak and it reaches a certain crowd or population. A lot of those big companies are now recognizing that they may have been exclusive in their tone and are trying to figure out how to fix it. So figuring out how to measure the impact of those changes is an ongoing conversation and then in the era of social media, you have tons of outlets, you have things like black twitter, you have things like linkedin that are going out as well where people are having this conversation in discourse informs that they didn’t have before. Maybe paying attention to those things as well as a way to show the impact. I think the same thing can be applied to transportation. Looking at minor changes or tweaks that we can make in our approach, how we think about things, how we think about introducing new services and then figuring out ways to actually go to the root of measuring and saying that we made x change or alteration at the foundation and then we were able to see a different type of outcome for y. We were able to see more black and brown communities using transit in a different way, we were able to see more black folks thinking about electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles in a new way, because we started engaging differently and so being able to figure out ways to measure it from a research and a practitioner point of view, I think it includes the same thing, being able to figure out new ways of evaluating how updates in urban design can change and encourage different types of behavior, how the introduction of new services is done in a manner that maybe we haven’t thought of before, can actually yield positive outcomes.

There are a number of folks, when you think about road and traffic safety figuring, out the concept of vision zero but how does that apply to marginalized communities? Maybe instead of like doubling down on enforcement, there’s an educational component that should be there. There’s a different type of hosting community meetings and inclusion during hours that make sense for the population that you’re trying to target and then seeing what those things yield. Maybe you get more buy-in, maybe you get more programs that organically pop up, maybe you get people taking an extra measure of care when they’re out on the road but also investing in their own personal communities and safety because you’ve engaged differently and then being able to highlight those things is a way that you can get it done. I think for the private companies working in the space it’s kind of doing the same thing paying attention to ways to measure and ways to outreach in ways to engage and then figuring out how to measure it and show what if any impact that it’s having. Then if necessary, changing how you think about it and how you approach it from there.


Can you give us an example of a group that has done a great job with public private relationships, in relation to Vision Zero?


I will say that the most when it comes to vision zero specifically, I think that the engagement piece that I’m seeing ramp up in a lot of places is key. During a former job, I would attend all the vision zero conferences in certain areas, so Washington D.C. pops in mind, because it’s my hometown as well, but they had a conference during the day and they brought voices to the table that usually aren’t there. So they reached out to the black biking community, they reached out to folks who were looking at vision zero, but looking how specifically applied to some of the communities that were outside of the urban center. Then you also have folks who are there taking a very much public health approach, looking at how you treat illness, saying you should actually be putting more resources in the places where you’re seeing a disproportionate impact and it may not be the commercial corridor, it may be a place that’s outside.

I think that was something that I thought had great promise, like being able to bring those different voices to the table, being able to think about it from different ways and then also hosting it during a time that’s spanned both during the daytime but also at night time. You can have the community come in and participate because a lot of times these conversations happen in the ivory tower or for those who work certain types of jobs, but the people who you really need to hear from may be shift workers or maybe working and have different issues or different time constraints on their time.

Finding out a way to have your program run long enough, where people can kind of shuffle in and out, but you’re also there to collect all the feedback. I think internationally too, there’s some great examples that are popping up where you kind of tap into the culture of everyone looking out for each other or the fact that we’re all in this together in a different way and then it’s a situation where you’re not pointing the finger at anybody, you’re recognizing that humans are going to make mistakes while out on the road. Let’s figure out other ways that we can tackle the problem so looking at the problem and the issue from a comprehensive point of view. Not targeting one thing on its own but looking at how the system itself is operating and interacting and then you can strategically target pieces. That’s something that i’ve seen be extremely promising. It’s something that I see also popping up in the US when we talk about innovative mobility options and micromobility. Recognizing that any one solution is not going to solve the problem for everybody, you need a mix of transit, you need a mix of having people have the option of using their personal car if it makes sense, you need bikes and scooters, you need people walking you need people on motors or bikes and all these things are going to interplay together, but then also looking at the fact that you need roads and bridges built and designed a certain way. You need neighborhoods built a certain way where people have access to the resources that they need in a reasonable amount of distance, so they don’t have to get on the interstate highway in order to get groceries, you need also to think about the behavior and education that we’re getting at the personal level. Instead of being blamed for doing something that maybe is a little bit less safe, you’re looking at the fact that a human is going to mess up. How can we figure out how to design around what the human can do, and bringing folks to the table who like to problem solve and figuring out if there’s a new way or approach where we all can work in tandem and move together and have incremental progress be made, as opposed to targeting one thing. Figuring out we’ve solved it but then having the question on the other end ‘why the system isn’t operating any better’ and having those folks kind of talking cross-pollination with certain degrees.

The public-private partnerships that I’ve seen be the most fruitful, is when you have diverse people at the table not only in experience but also in sector and it’s a situation where everybody can start from ground zero. Having a company be able to explain ‘this is how we think about things,’ ‘this is how we navigate,’ ‘this is what we’re working to solve,’ having the city say ‘okay, this is what we’re working on,’ ‘this is what we’re looking to do,’ – having the advocates and the community say ‘okay, this is what we see on the ground,’ and then actually having a conversation facilitated where all persons can bring their point of view and piece of the puzzle and then being able to create something a little bit bigger as opposed to having people sort of entrenched in their position. You can have that true spirit of collaboration and those are the partnerships where it’s a little bit more organic, where it’s a little bit more flexible, where people are recognizing the experiences but also the field that they’re operating in based on their their company, based on their city, based on the needs on the ground and you can kind of work from there. Sometimes it’s interesting because it may feel like very incremental and very slow moving, but if I think the benefits are going to come out on the back end where me and somebody from the private sector hearing directly from a community member, about what they’re thinking, I now take that with me throughout my day, so when I’m going in and talking to people who I work with and I’m going in externally talking to elected officials or regulators that’s still in the back of my mind. It’s going to come out in some way or it’s going to be reflected in how I think about how I’m presenting the position.

It’s also building empathy and additional perspective and where someone is coming from and if you’re exposed to that enough naturally, you’re going to begin to incorporate that into how you maneuver in your day to day. I think that’s going to yield some really really big impacts and outcomes even though they may not be seen until maybe years down the line as opposed to the immediate. I hope to see more of those things organically pop up or continue.


Do you think over the next decade there will be a shift from innovation in technology to innovation helping the community, using technology?


I hope there’s a shift happening. I personally believe that technology is not the silver bullet but it’s something that we should be using and leveraging. I think many times people thought that technology was going to solve everything, it was going to solve the problem outright and it kind of got us away from actually taking the other steps and making sure that we were incrementally measuring progress but also making sure that people and voices and the impact of how it played out on the ground were actually considered.

I think now we are moving back towards that, I think the pendulum is swinging back in that direction because it’s needed. I think there is a way for sure for technology and communities and for everybody to work together on it. I think for us what’s going to be fun for me these next 10 years moving forward, is finding that right balance, so being able to say technology can solve x but we need to figure something else out to address why or being able to say the community is calling for this, technology doesn’t have a solution for it, but this other sector does. If there’s something that the technology community can bring to to help along the way we should consider doing that and we should figure out those things. I think its about not putting the the onus on one solution or one thing to solve everything, but figuring out if there’s ways that you can get at the end goal having more of a collaborative approach or having people come together to figure out how to do it. I hope the community remains as loud and vocal as we’ve been. I love seeing all the folks working on issues of equity and environmental justice, working on electrification, working on at the grassroots level, on connecting marginalized communities to the resources that they need.

If we are to get to that utopian society or that future vision that we all we all want, we need folks working in tandem and it should be people taking the piece of the pie that they can do the most good in and working on that as well but then also recognizing they fit into a bigger picture, that they’re part of something that’s going to be a system that’s working and that everybody needs to do their part in that role.

What are your thoughts on the future of shared mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020?  If you would like to be interviewed or to nominate a woman working in Shared Mobility for our next series, get in touch with us here.

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