Share on Social

Episode 118 guest Waffiyyah Murray

Most shared mobility systems like bikeshare weren’t started with equity as a foundational element. For those systems, Waffiyyah Murray and the Better Bike Share Partnership stand by to help ensure equitable access to mobility.


Cohen: Josh Cohen
Jensen: L’erin Jensen
Murray: Waffiyyah Murray

Cohen: We talk over and over on The Movement podcast about the trust-building that comes from involving the community in mobility projects. Coming up on The Movement podcast today, Waffiyyah Murray of the Better Bike Share Partnership shares how investing the time building trust up front and making it an ongoing, long-term commitment can help overcome the historical mistrust between communities, governments, and mobility providers. Let’s go.

F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.

Murray: Waffiyyah Murray is the Better Bike Share program manager with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability after a previous stint as the education outreach manager for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Cohen: And I have to give props to Keith Benjamin, who you may remember from “Episode 061,” at the City of Charleston who recommended that we have you on. So thank you, Keith; and welcome to The Movement, Waffiyyah.

Murray: Hello, hello. Thanks for having me, and shout-out to my brother Keith for not only recommending me for this but just for all of the amazing work that he is doing over in Charleston. It’s inspirational, so I’m proud of him.

Jensen: Welcome, Waffiyyah. We’re super excited to have you. I guess, we’ll just dive right in. In your current role you are the program manager at Better Bike Share Partnership. Can you tell us a little bit about Better Bike Share Partnership and the work you all are doing over there?

Murray: BBSP for short is a national initiative, and it’s a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, People for Bikes, and NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials. It’s truly a partnership, and we really come together to work to incorporate equity and access in shared micromobility both nationally and locally in Philadelphia but throughout the world. And so the goal is really to first research to identify barriers of access and use specifically for underrepresented communities, BIPOC communities, individuals with lower income, researching finding out what are their barriers to using bikeshare and shared micromobility, and then working to really implement strategies and initiatives to alleviate a lot of those barriers to help make it accessible for anyone who wants to use it.

Cohen: Wow. I mean, is there any other groups doing this, like, from a kind of a macro level or a systemic level that y’all are trying to do, kind of more globally or big picture?

Murray: Yeah. I will say now there are a lot of different, like, organizations, a lot of bikeshare systems, shared micromobility systems, cities that are really incorporating a lot of strategy in equity. I will say—so BBSP launched in 2014, and at the time when we launched there really wasn’t a big focus around equity. And at that time it was only bikeshare. Right? Like, now you’ve got scooters and—I don’t know—you can ride almost anything, boats, whatever, you’ve got everything. [LAUGHTER] But in 2014 even bikeshare as a system, a form of transportation was fairly new for many cities, so the equity wasn’t really a forefront of a lot of those discussions.

And so—which is the basis behind the Better Bike Share Partnership really coming about because we wanted to, A, bring light to the importance of equity in shared micromobility and just transportation as a whole. And then also with the launch of Indego Bikeshare in Philadelphia, which is our bikeshare system which launched in 2015, we wanted to show how you can be a bikeshare system that incorporates equity, incorporates the voice of the people from the very beginning and, you know, be successful and really show the range of bikeshare and the range of its riders and really break down a lot of those barriers and misconceptions about bikeshare and transportation as a whole.

Cohen: Awesome.

Jensen: You said some nuggets in there, so I was writing those down. [LAUGHS] So the goals of bikeshare are mobility for people, and yet putting bikeshare out in the market is a little bit more complicated than that. You have to consider how people pay, where the stations go, what the bike infrastructure, if any, looks like, and what the ramifications of the investment might be, like gentrification. So Philadelphia tried to address these items from the beginning, but other cities didn’t. What are you learning from those cities that are making many of these equity considerations after the bikeshare system is already up and running?

Murray: Yeah, that’s a great question. I will say something that I hear so often is that we wish we would have done this sooner—right—we wish we would have, you know, incorporated these lessons from the very beginning, because even though it can often be a lot of work and take some time to really do the research—because like with us before we launched we took, you know, like, a year to just have conversations. We did focus groups; we did surveys; we did research, just having one-on-one conversations with community members, with the residents that we really want to serve through this bikeshare system and really working to amplify the voices that are often underrepresented in transportation planning discussions.

So we really took the time to do that work before we launched, and with that it made it so much easier. And we still have those ongoing conversations, especially now, you know, given everything that’s going on in the world. But it’s so much easier when you take the time to—it’s not just doing the work but really building that trust, which is so important because there’s so much mistrust between communities and systems and people, you know, promising one thing, delivering another. There’s also the conversation of, like, gentrification and bikeshare, “Are you putting this program in my community for me, for us that have been here, or for, you know, new residents coming in?” All of these things are out there, and it’s important to address them from the very beginning and throughout—right—because that’s the other thing. It’s not just about having those conversations at the beginning; it’s ongoing conversations, so we still have robust community outreach that we do.

But really having those conversations at the beginning, building that trust, letting residents know that we’re looking to make this a very community-focused and a very joint decision-making process. So you build that trust, and then you also show how you’ve done what you promised. Right? So when we talk about, “We’re not just putting in a bikeshare system; we want to work with you to make sure that we make it affordable, we make it accessible, we provide the education and the safety that, you know, we’ve heard your concerns and we’re actively working to address them.” So by doing that we’ve built that trust, and now we just celebrated our sixth birthday actually this month on the 22nd, and just to think back to all of the partnerships that we’ve build since then and now we’re in the process locally with Indego where we’re expanding the system and adding new stations and expanding to new neighborhoods. And a lot of those conversations, it’s become easier than when we were first putting it out because they see, “Oh, yeah. We heard about Indego. You know, we see the great work you’re all doing. Let’s have this conversation.” Because in the beginning it was like, “Yeah, who are you? No, we don’t want to talk to you. We’re not checking for these bikes right now,” and so, you know, just being persistent.

So, yeah, I would say definitely we hear a lot of wish we would have, you know, done this from the very beginning. And sometimes it’s hard to, like, put something out and then track back and try to do the outreach because community is like, “You know, you didn’t ask us before—right—we just woke up and saw these systems, this bikeshare system or this scooter system or whatever device out in our front yard and no one talked to us—right—no one asked us about it. And so to come after the fact is questionable.” We definitely hear, “We wish you would have did it sooner,” and we are seeing a lot of newer systems, you know, implementing those practices from the beginning. Think of Detroit; when they rolled out—they’re doing amazing work, and they implemented a lot of these equity-focused strategies from the beginning. Then you’ve seen, like, the fruits of that labor. And you even see some cities that had a system, maybe it didn’t work out, they had the opportunity to revamp, and they started with the equity conversations. And, you know, they’ve seen the power of that. So, early and often is the motto.

Cohen: Well, L’erin, that recalls the conversation with Lynn Ross. You know, one of the best quotes I think we’ve had of the podcast, Lynn said, “We can only move at the speed of trust.”

Murray: Mmm.

Cohen: And, you know, that’s been one that has just stuck with me since she brought that on. And I like the way you framed that too, because what played through my head was—so, for instance, the gentrification question and bikeshare in communities, “Are you bringing these bikes—are they for us or are they for some other goal that you have for the city?” Right? You know, because I could see a city saying, “Oh, we want to do this because it kind of makes our city feel fun,” or, you know, it allows people kind of at a philosophical level to have access and so forth, but without doing that hard work of really digging in and engaging with the community to understand actually what their needs are and ensuring that what they’re delivering is actually what that community needs—right—versus what they want for some picture that they want to paint of their community. You know? That’s what you said there that I think is just so awesome.

Murray: Yeah, it’s so true. And it’s like when you come and you say, “We want to put these bikes here for you,” the question is, “Okay, if it’s for me, how can it be for me if I can’t afford it?” Right? “How can, you know, this bikeshare be for me if I can’t have access to it, if I had to take a train and a boat just to get to the bikeshare system? How is it for me if you’re not providing all of that support?” And then also something that is very important is—so when I talked about trust and about that relationship building, it’s also important to be there for the community and not only showing up when it’s about bikes—right—not just showing up to talk about, “Oh, this bikeshare system,” and then just leaving after that. “Oh, the bikes are in. Peace out. You know, we’ve done our work,” or, you know, “We’re here to talk about bikeshare.” Because one thing that we’ve learned when talking to communities is that oftentimes there may be resistance not necessarily because they’re not, you know, open to bikeshare but it’s because communities are going through so much other things. Right?

Like, you know, they’re dealing with health disparities; they’re dealing with loss of jobs; some of them are in food deserts and certain things. Like, there’s a lot that communities are dealing with. And so coming in and talking about bikeshare just may not be high on the priority list. And so something that’s often been helpful is something that, you know, we use as a motto, is, “Seeing how I don’t want to add a new thing to your plate with this bikeshare, but how can bikeshare possibly be a tool to help alleviate some of the other concerns that the community is facing? If you’re dealing with loss of jobs or funding issues, you know, bikeshare is a very affordable way to be able to get back and forth to job interviews, get back and forth to that first few weeks of work before you get a paycheck, you know.”

And it’s a healthy way to get back and forth. Especially during the pandemic, we found a lot of people had turned to biking as, you know, a safer way to be socially distanced and things like that. So being able to connect to other concerns in the community and seeing how bikeshare can be a resource for that as opposed to an additional thing on their plate has often been a great way to have the conversation and to show that, you know, we’re here as a community resource.

Jensen: Great. I want to dig into this a little bit more. If you were in charge of a city tomorrow, what would you change to make sure that there was more equitable mobility?

Murray: Woo. Mmm. The dream. Right? So there’s a few things. I would say, for starters—boom—I would make it free, bikeshare, transit, all of it free. That would be for starters. But more importantly, digging deeper, I would really work to dismantle and rebuild. So dismantle the systems and practices that have been put in place that really disadvantage a lot of community members, those systems that are built around racist structures or White supremacy spaces, really dismantle a lot of that because the reason for a lot of inequities and injustice in the world is because of, you know, systematic structures that were put in place just to keep people down. And so I would start by dismantling those and then rebuilding, rebuilding structures that are built on people, that are built on community, rebuilding structures and rebuilding leadership structures that prioritize diverse voices, diverse perspectives, different backgrounds, different races, different cultures, languages, abilities, etcetera, because the way to really incorporate equity is to have diversity in leadership, diversity in power, have diverse voices at the table and really having a joint decision-making process. So that would be kind of my basis for everything, that dismantle rebuild, because it’s got to—you know, you’ve got to break it down and build it back up and start anew. So, yeah, in addition to free. [LAUGHS]

Cohen: No, those are great. L’erin and I were just talking about that prior to us talking today, is that it seems like the Philadelphia or your region has actually had some very specific bike kind of topics more recently about some of the systematic racism kind of built into the system there with Perth Amboy from a week or so ago and then the Bensalem police having this form to kind of fill out when people are riding bikes problematically, whatever the heck that means.

Murray: Right.

Cohen: So L’erin and I were just kind of chatting through some of the challenges associated with that and kind of the long way we have to go. Even as you and your team and Keith and so forth, all these folks that we talk with on a regular basis are doing all this great work, you then have some of these things over here that are undermining that.

Murray: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it’s tough when you’re trying to, like I mentioned, when you’re trying to, you know, do great work and you’re trying to work against a system that’s been built to oppress. It’s so difficult. And that’s why this work, even though, you know, it’s bikeshare and shared micromobility, it’s so much larger than that. Right? It’s trust; it’s building—you know, it goes into race and justice and mobility justice and things like that. Like, you have to have these conversations simultaneously. Right? You can’t just talk about the bike; you can’t just talk about the scooter without addressing, you know, race and other things. And it is tough when you’re trying to, you know, work against the system. So we’ve got to just knock it down and rebuild it and, you know, start anew, start afresh.

Jensen: You and I need to connect outside of here and brainstorm how to tear this whole thing down—

Murray: [LAUGHS] Yes, let’s do it.

Jensen: —because, like, that’s where my passion really lies, is getting rid of the entire system—

Murray: Period.

Jensen: —top down, all the way, get rid of the whole thing. Throw the baby out with the bathwater too. Who cares? [LAUGHTER]

Murray: Yeah.

Cohen: Love it. Love it. No, I mean, there’s so much that—and, again, I think the work you’re doing, the reason I think the work you’re doing is so important is that you’re trying to address some of these things from the beginning. And, you know, my dad’s a woodworker, and one of the things he taught me back, you know, when he first started doing that is, “Measure twice; cut once.” Right? You know, if you do the work at the beginning, it will save you so much down the road. And so some of the work you’re doing as far as ensuring these organizations are rooted in the community and not just at the beginning but throughout the process, I think, is really important.

Murray: Absolutely. I like that. Measure twice, cut once? What was that again? I like that.

Cohen: Yeah, measure twice, cut once. It’s a lot harder with wood. You know? You can’t really paste it back together very well. [LAUGHTER]

Murray: Yeah, that rings true for me. I just moved a few months ago, and so there’s a lot of measuring and cutting going on, so—[LAUGHS]—so that theory rings true in so many ways for me right now. I love it.

Cohen: That’s a good one. You can apply that one tomorrow.

Murray: [LAUGHS]

Jensen: Yeah, so we mentioned Keith Benjamin at the beginning of the show. So besides him, who are some of the leaders that have inspired you throughout your career or people that you look to when you think about good, effective leadership in advocacy?

Murray: There are so many. So I will say first off Carniesha Kwashie who is my fellow sister in Philadelphia. Carniesha was the first Better Bike Share Partnership program manager, and she helped really build out, you know, BBSP and really helped it to have its focus on people and equity. And she did such a great job building out the structure and bringing, you know, these conversations to the forefront. And so she’s, you know, my sister; she’s my mentor; and she’s just amazing; and she’s just continuing to be just a leaders and change agent within this work. So I would definitely big-up my sis, Carniesha Kwashie.

In addition to her, I’ve got Tamika Butler, who is just so, so powerful. I just admire her. I look to her work so much, especially last year in 2020, which was, you know, the craziest year. On top of that I was also pregnant with my beautiful baby girl and, you know, just everything going on in the world. And I remember just reading the articles that Tamika would put out and the papers she would write and just listening to her talk. And it just—she would just speak life into everything that I was thinking but wasn’t quite sure how to articulate at the time. And I was just so thankful just to, you know, have her be that voice. And I just look up to her so much. And, you know, she’s also a friend. You know, I can reach out to her when I’m struggling or just need to vent or just need to, you know, have someone to talk through this work with, so definitely Tamika Butler. Charles Brown is amazing.

Cohen: Mm-hmm.

Murray: He’s been doing some great work around his work around arrested mobility, just so, you know, spot-on with what’s going on in the world right now and encompassing so much. And then last but definitely not least, my sister Dr. Destiny Thomas who is just leading the charge with her organization the Thrivance Group and just—[SIGHS]—just doing amazing. I can talk about these people all day, but, yeah, that’s just some of the colleagues and friends that are doing amazing, amazing work in this space of transportation and mobility justice, and, yeah.

Cohen: And all great folks. With the exception of Carniesha, we’ve had them all on the podcast, and I’ve been, like you said, just blow away by the way they’re able to express their feelings, like you said, what Tamika does, but they each do it in different ways. They have different specialties and different expertises and so forth. But, yeah, they’ve all been fabulous and great to have on the podcast as well. Really, really good. L’erin, what’s on your mind?

Jensen: It’s just really cool. I know that Dr. Destiny Thomas, Tamika Butler have been on the show as well as Charles Brown. And I think I had the chance to listen in to the Charles Brown one while it was being recorded, but I had not yet with Tamika Butler or Dr. Destiny Thomas. And so it’s just so interesting to see, especially now that I’m doing this work with Bike Durham, to see Black people who bike, because I think it’s something that, like, in our community isn’t necessarily cool, for lack of a better term. And to see all of these people who are doing the hard work in an area that we don’t typically think of as sport or, like, a real form of transportation, it’s just nice. It’s really nice to be like, “Okay, we’re out here doing it.”

Murray: Yeah. No, I get what you’re saying. And I think that’s something that—and actually as you talk about that it brings up another person whose work I look up to a lot, is Ayesha McGowan. I think I’m pronouncing her last name right, maybe wrong, but she is amazing work. She’s a female pro cyclist, and she speaks a lot about representation in the biking industry for, you know, for several reasons. And what I love about her work is she also inspired me a lot because—so when I initially started working within biking, because I’ve been in it now for about six or seven years, but prior to that, you know, I was working in, like, education. And so when I first joined the biking world I didn’t feel like I fit in. Right? I didn’t even call myself a cyclist. I’m like, “I don’t see myself as a cyclist. I don’t bike every day. I’m not, you know, on a trail with, you know, my tights and my, you know, trying to track my miles and trying to beat my time. Like, that’s not me. Right? I like to—you know, I bike as, you know, a form of transportation but in addition to, like, I also like to walk and I also like to, you know, take public transit and trollies and trains. Like, I like to do all the things, and biking is one of those. And, you know, it’s something that I enjoy doing,” but I didn’t see myself as a cyclist because at the time I didn’t see others like me—right—that were being hailed as cyclists.
I only saw—when I saw images of, you know, a cyclist, it was, like, White male or, you know, cycling with a kid or, like, racing or professional or something like that. And so I didn’t identify. And then I remember I attended one of Ayesha’s sessions at the National Bike Summit, and she talked about how it’s important that, you know, that all of it cycling. Right? Like, there’s different aspects and different faces of cyclists.

Cohen: Yeah.

Murray: Rather, you know, however you use it, it’s still cycling, and it’s important to be able to share those narratives and to share those stories so that other people can see themselves in it. And so that was so empowering for me, and it made me understand, like, “I am a cyclist. Like, why am I letting someone else define, you know, what the definition of a cyclist is?” Right? Like, I am a cyclist. I enjoy cycling. I enjoy it a lot. I use it, you know, as transportation sometimes. I use it as fun. And being able to tell my story of being a cyclist to help other people see themselves in it but also working to amplify the stories of others that are cycling in this work. And so that’s another big piece that we do through the Better Bike Share Partnership, is, you know, amplifying the stories of what a cyclist is, because there’s so much. Right? People use it for transit; people use it for fun; people use it for recreation, so many different things. And so being able to share those stories so that, you know, multiple people can see themselves in cycling.

And knowing that also, like, a lot of people in our community have been cycling for years. Like, you know, the kids out in the street popping wheelies, they’re cycling. Okay, they’re—I wish I had the ability to do some of the things that they do, but I do not, but they are cyclists. Those that have been using bikes for, you know, just necessity to get back and forth, they’re cyclists. And so being able to share those stories and amplify those voices is so big, and it’s important. And, you know, it goes into what you were saying of being able to share that and show the diversity of cyclists and, you know, that Black people do bike. Yes, we do. We bike and we enjoy it, and we, you know, do it our way and in our time, and that needs to be respected.

Cohen: I assume you’re talking about Ayesha McGowan. Is that—

Murray: Yes, yes. I’m like, “Why am I having such a—” yeah, she’s amazing as well.

Cohen: Yeah. You know, this recalls the conversation we had with Shabazz Stuart a couple weeks ago, L’erin. And one of the things that he’s been talking about a lot, how the bike delivery workers in New York City, you know, it’s almost like they’re considered a separate class—

Jensen: Yep.

Cohen: —in the sense that they’re cycling every day, they’re bringing people their food they’re requesting on all the different platforms and directly from the restaurants and so forth, and their experience should be no different than anybody else’s. Right? And thankfully I think New York City is starting to make progress as far as some of the e-bike legislation there to kind of help mitigate some of that persecution of the bike delivery workers. But, man, New York City would not work if all those people were taking cars. Like, there’s too many people getting DoorDash and Uber Eats and whatever that it would stop working.

Jensen: The things we can gatekeep.

Murray: Mmm. That part. And what’s crazy to me is that—so, as you mentioned, they’re the ones delivering, you know, delivering resources, and it takes, you know, being in this pandemic people should have realized the value anyway. At the end of the day, they’re doing their job. You know, they’re delivering resources. And, I think, especially during the pandemic you really saw the importance of their work. And it’s unfortunate that it had to take, you know, a pandemic and it had to take everything that we’re going through for racial uprisings and everything else for people to—for a city and others to really see the value in that. So, yeah, I am happy that, you know, changes are being made in New York City. It’s just that it didn’t come sooner, that it had to take a pandemic and protests for us to get to that point.

Cohen: And 500,000 lost lives too.

Murray: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Cohen: Well, we are grateful for the work you’re doing to help build more equitable communities, I think, certainly and not just in Philadelphia but throughout the country and all the different places that the Better Bike Share Partnership program is influencing. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with L’erin and I today on The Movement podcast. We’re grateful for your work, and keep it up.

Murray: Oh, no, thank you for having me. And, yes, L’erin, let’s definitely follow up on how we can dismantle these systems—[LAUGHTER]—and rebuild. I got a couple of people I can invite to the conversation, so—[LAUGHS]

Jensen: All right. I would love that.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.