Along for the Ride #100

What writing 100 newsletter has taught me.

Heya friends, happy Friday!

I am really excited to share that this week is the 100th edition of Along for the Ride, and what a wild ride it has been. This week’s newsletter is a little more personal, speaking to some of things I’ve learnt from writing 100 newsletters over the past two and half years. I hope you take the time to read it, and I’ll hit ya with transport news on Monday! 

First, I’d like to start by saying that I am forever grateful for and humbled by your continued readership. Thank you for keeping me coming back to the keyboard, week after week. It’s hard to put words to the feeling I get with every new subscriber, so thank you for being here with me. 

This newsletter has always been designed to bridge knowledge gaps between policy and technology, providing industry leaders with knowledge about transportation policy and infrastructure that is already achieving the goals laid out by the AV industry (from vision zero to zero carbon). On the flip side, I also wanted to break down the technocratic language used by industry experts to help policy makers better understand this ever-evolving industry. 

When I started this newsletter, I was somewhat nervous to put my voice out there into the abyss of the internet for anybody to find. The original version of AFTR included a sign-up via Google Forms and was sent with the entire subscriber list on bcc. I wish I was kidding. I sent the sign-up form directly to people I knew in the industry, posted about it once on twitter and again on LinkedIn. And that was it. I knew I had some expertise after publishing research on AVs and urbanism in 2018 and a perspective I wanted to share, but it still felt audacious to ask people to care about what I was writing about. At any moment I was certain a reader would tell me I wasn’t experienced or smart enough to write a newsletter. 

Word of mouth has slowly grown my readership. At some point last year I decided I needed to get over myself and start taking up a bit more space. So I added a link to my newsletter in my email signature. And I shared it with friends, who quite frankly were shocked that I had neglected to tell them that the reason I didn’t go to dinners or dates on Thursday nights for the last two and a half years was because I was holed up in my London flat writing about cars which might someday drive themselves.

Mostly I am amazed I have a reader base that comes back week after week. My average open rate is 47%, which all my friends in marketing tell me is bananas. It is a number I am immensely proud of. Then there’s the quality of all of YOU! I listen to you on podcasts, read about you in the NYT or Streetsblog, and am regularly inspired by your local community activism. I do a little dance every single time somebody new subscribes, since everyone is a new voice contributing to our shared learning.

Now, onto the lessons:

  • Despite cities and national governments taking a deeper interest in AVs, much of the conversation remains about the logistics of implementing them instead of whether they are the right solution for cities, including who benefits most from the introduction of AVs? 

  • Most of the articles I share every week are written by white men, often in the private sector. Some weeks every. single. article. is written by white men. Media platforms rarely publish perspectives from the public sector, let alone analyses from women, Black and Brown folks, the queer community, and so many more. 

  • An extrapolation on the above, every time my subscriber count has significantly increased, I can trace it back to a white man who has tweeted about the newsletter or shared it personally with their acquaintances and network. The privileging of perspectives thus exists beyond paid media, it also takes place in digital spaces such as social media. For the record, I really appreciate every share and your confidence in my work, no matter who you are.

  • The majority of people who send in a critique or correction are white men. My readership, from what I can tell, is diverse, so I can’t help but wonder why one group feels more emboldened to critique than others. Let me be ultra-clear: your corrections are very welcome! I value the dialogue enormously and I know I get things wrong from time-to-time. 

  • Trying to instigate dialogue about the inequities of tech and transportation is scary, but it feels less scary when I’m able to also share this platform with others whose perspective may not be as welcomed in our industry. The saying “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” really resonates with the experience I’ve had of writing this newsletter. 

Some of you are likely nodding along right now. Some, like me, are grappling with identities which benefit from our [racial, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability] backgrounds. It’s easy to feel like this niche corner of transportation and technology isn’t open to view points which deviate from the norm. Sometimes it feels like being anything other than a “David of Transportation Twitter” puts one at an automatic disadvantage. 

It took a while for these lessons to sink in, for me to truly know that in writing this newsletter I was teaching myself how to carve out my place in the tech and transport industry, while taking stock of where industry influences were naturally steering and shaping my perspectives. The newsletter has pushed me to be more vocal than I ever thought I would in this industry, and I’d like to use this platform to make sure that I am challenging the whiteness of the tech and transportation industries. I’ve begun by starting to ask myself the following questions:

  • Whose opinions and work do I promote in this industry? Thinking about everything from panel invitations to retweets.

  • What % of content that I take in and share comes from people with a similar background as me (including education, geography, socio-economic status)?

  • How do I currently benefit from the status-quo? 

  • What would using my platform to acknowledge, celebrate, and explore more diverse voices look like? 

So in the next 100 editions of this newsletter, I will make a commitment to exploring and deepening my research into literature, publications, perspectives and activism by and for people who are under-represented in the transportation and technology industry. I have been cooking up new ideas for how to support diverse voices of our industry (because they exist, despite what our collective unconscious bias may think!). This includes inviting guest writers to help make the newsletter an open space for other contributors. 

I’d like to invite others with platforms—be it their own newsletter, a twitter following, or general influence in the industry—to join me in this journey and brainstorm ways to ensure the future of our industry welcomes and celebrates all perspectives and people. You can reach out to me directly by replying to this email.

Thanks for your time today friends, on this low-emission detour. Transport news as planned will hit your inbox on Monday ✨ Have a beautiful weekend!

Sarah

PS. My virtual door (email) is always open to share your news, job postings, a debate, or whatever you fancy.

PPS. A big thank you to my friends who helped me edit this edition. You rock.