Ride-Hailing Drivers Are Now First Responders

Updated: 2020-03-24

Yash Bazian went off his depression medication last year, because he felt his mental health was improving. But then came coronavirus. Sick people started climbing into the backseat of his car, and the nightmares started. Now he’s having trouble sleeping, and starting to gain weight.

“Driving is already a very stressful job,” he said. “Imagine you add the stress of getting the virus when someone sneezes or coughs.”

Bazian has been driving for Uber and Lyft in the Bay Area for three years. The work has been slower ever since the region’s shelter-in-place rules — meaning all nonessential services were to be avoided — took effect on March 17. But it hasn’t stopped. Under the now-statewide shelter orders, the private transportation industry is deemed essential. And with fears of crowding aboard buses and subways, ride-hail has become an ever-more vital supplement to the public transit that’s been chugging along down empty streets.

The ride-hail drivers still on the road have been left to contend not only with weekly incomes slashed in half, but with mounting fears that by welcoming strangers into their cars, they’re inviting the virus in, too.

These risks are shared by others who have joined doctors and nurses to become the de facto first responders to the coronavirus pandemic: grocery store and postal workers, delivery drivers, janitors and domestic workers, e-commerce shippers. Many of these workers are treated like independent contractors — they lack employer-provided health insurance, sick leave, or unemployment benefits. The risks of staying on the job are higher; so are the risks of stopping.

“The sickness is the least of my priorities. The drop in revenue is the highest priority,” said Edan Alva, a Lyft driver who’s based in Alameda. “I live pretty much from road to mouth.”

There’s a clear tension between ride-hailing and the CDC’s social distancing recommendations of keeping six feet away from others. To limit contact between passengers and drivers, Uber and Lyft have stopped all pooled rides in the U.S. and Canada markets where they’re offered. Before each new passenger gets into his car, Alva attacks each surface with disinfectant. He treats the backseat with rubbing alcohol and wipes, cleaning the lock, the door handle, the inside of the passenger door and the seatbelt buckles. He sprays the whole thing down with Lysol — especially after driving a passenger that is “coughing or displaying any signs of sickness” — and then Febreze, to cover the citrus scent. The whole routine takes 15 minutes. While Uber and Lyft have both said they’re working on providing cleaning supplies to drivers for free, Alva said he had to cover the $25 to $30 in costs himself.

Bazian, too, is upping his cleaning regimen, and wearing gloves and a mask on the road. He’s spending an additional $10 and $15 a day on anti-virus supplies, he says. Most of his morning rides have been for older people getting groceries. They’re wary of him and the germs of his previous passengers, and he’s just as wary of them.

“I hear some people sometimes sneeze in my car and say, ‘It’s just allergies,’” Bazian said. “I don’t know if it’s just allergies or not.”

Ride-hailing drivers have become extremely stringent about germ avoidance. (Courtesy Yash Bazian)

He also drives for Uber Assist, a service meant to help elderly individuals get to care appointments with a more experienced driver. In the last couple of weeks since March started, I drove four to six people to the hospital and from the hospital,” he said.

Alva has driven several passengers who appear to have an illness, he says, though he’s never sure what kind. He hasn’t taken any trips to or from a hospital, but he did drop an elderly woman off at the doctor’s to get a pneumonia shot. Mostafa Maklad, a driver for Uber and Lyft who lives in Daly City, says he’s picked up doctors and nurses on the way to work shifts.

As regular movement around the city stalls, the highest-risk trips such as shuttling health care workers or patients to and from hospitals — may become more prevalent, as Lyft and Uber try to bolster drivers’ earnings by diverting them to do other public health tasks. Lyft offers drivers the chance to join the LyftUp Driver Task Force, to do paid rides that “help neighbors get to grocery stores, workers to hospitals, and caretakers to their jobs,” and is working with government agencies to do test kit drop-offs. The company will also continue to partner with Medicaid agencies to serve as non-emergency medical transportation to doctor’s appointments. Uber Health, which gets patients to doctor’s appointments, is continuing to operate, too.

“It’s important to call out that Uber Health is serving the non-emergency medical transportation space and that ridesharing is not equipped or aiming to serve as an alternative to specialized or emergency medical transportation,” said Xavier Van Chau, head of business product communications for Uber. “Examples of when Uber Health is used include travel to a dialysis appointment or a physiotherapy visit.”

These trips are booked through a dashboard by health-care providers, who are tasked with assessing what kind of transportation is most appropriate. “[T]hat would exclude transporting patients who may be contagious,” Van Chau said.

Despite such safeguards, there’s widespread fear that sick patients will turn to the platform anyway. Already, people afraid of incurring the high cost of an ambulance call ride-hail to pick them up in case of emergency. When the mother of a young boy from Westport, Connecticut, learned he had tested positive for Covid-19, the school called him an Uber home.

To protect riders, Uber and Lyft have both said that they’ll suspend drivers who have contracted Covid-19. Uber started a 14-day sick fund to pay drivers if they test positive for the disease or if their doctor suggests they self-quarantine “due to their risk of spreading Covid-19;” Lyft’s policy, too, covers drivers with the disease and those who have been “put under individual quarantine” by a public health agency.

Alva says neither policy helps him much — because of his high deductible, it would cost too much to get that doctor’s note.

Moira Muntz, the spokesperson for New York City’s Independent Drivers Guild, had lobbied Uber and Lyft to strengthen their sick fund coverage. “We are glad that Uber and Lyft agreed to provide sick pay to any driver with a doctor’s note to self-isolate, but they urgently need to raise awareness of this policy and make the process easier or we will have sick and at-risk drivers continuing to work,” she said. She worries that only drivers who are at risk of spreading the disease — not at high risk of contracting a serious case of it — will be eligible.

Drivers are at the front lines of the coronavirus crisis in other ways, too. On the road, they also share in people’s most intimate moments — they know where passengers travel to and from, and bear witness to the preoccupations that dominate their small talk and private phone calls. As the pandemic grips U.S. cities, they are shuttling the sick and the healthy, the fearful and foolhardy. They’re hearing first-hand how people are dealing with the uncertainty, even as they, too, grow more worried.

“Anybody who’s not feeling this is either sorely misguided or inattentive,” said Steve Gregg, who’s been driving for Uber and Lyft in the Bay Area for three years and completed 16,000 rides. He’s also a member of Gig Workers Rising, an organization that advocates for independent contractors.

Gregg, 51, is in more than one high-risk category for coronavirus: Along with high blood pressure, he says, he’s diabetic and borderline obese. His lungs have “been through a lot.” (“Even if I were to get it and survive it, the scar tissue in my lungs would probably be so bad that they’d be irrevocably damaged,” he said.) When he thought the virus only spread through touching infected surfaces, he felt he’d be OK and kept driving. But when he learned that it was also airborne, he got off the street immediately. “It’s like Russian roulette,” he said. “It’s a game I don’t play.” He started self-quarantining last week, which means he can’t see his children, either. Even after this ends, he’ll struggle to visit them, he says: They live 50 miles away, and he can’t afford his rental-car payment anymore.

“What is it worth to put my life on the line to make not even minimum wage? I can’t do that,” he said. “It comes back to my children again. A few hundred bucks a month compared to not having a father.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is lobbying the federal government to include drivers and delivery workers in any federal stimulus plan. New York City is rehiring some out-of-work Uber and Lyft drivers to do food delivery for at-risk seniors, on a first-come, first-serve basis, for $15 an hour (lower than the city’s ride-hail minimum wage, but with a commitment to pay their expenses.)

Gregg is particularly frustrated that Uber and Lyft can be deemed an essential service in California and yet not be covered by basic labor rights. “How can this government — that has consistently sold out gig workers over and over — then turn around and expect us to be emergency service personnel, with no safety net, in the face of the worst pandemic in 100 years?” he said.

Last year, California passed Assembly Bill 5, which was intended to enshrine misclassified gig workers like ride-hail and delivery drivers with full employment rights. So far, however, driver advocates argue that the rule hasn’t been adequately enforced; Uber, Lyft and other gig delivery companies have refused to comply with its guidance, arguing that their drivers are not misclassified, and fighting AB5 in court.

In a press conference on March 24, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to push the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to step in to enforce AB5, and asked the city and state attorneys to file an injunction allowing workers to access employment benefits. They also called on the city’s Department of Public Health to issue minimum health and safety requirements, which include providing additional sanitary supplies and workers’ compensation benefits “should they come into contact with a customer who has been infected.”

“There’s always a segment of the population who is or will be in desperate need of work and can be taken advantage of, theoretically,” said Alva. “The question is: Do we as a society want the people who are desperate to be taken advantage of to the point where they can’t afford their own health care?”

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The First Scooter Company to Unionize Tests California’s Gig Work Bill

Early this month, San Francisco employees at Spin, the electric scooter and micromobility company owned by Ford, voted to join Teamsters Local 665. For this emerging industry, it represented a historic milestone—the first unionization of the dockless e-scooter workforce.

Part of the organizing efforts’ success could be attributed to Spin’s role within Ford, a company whose relationship with the Teamsters goes back to the middle of the 20th century. But it was a new California law—and a local governing body with the will to enforce it—that lay the groundwork from which organizing was built.

After months of debate, California’s state government passed Assembly Bill 5 this fall. The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, pushes industries across the state to reclassify certain independent contractors as employees. Lawmakers and labor experts who supported the bill say AB5 will correct for rampant job misclassification, allowing ride-hail drivers and other gig workers to obtain the benefits and job protections non-contractors enjoy. Foes like Uber, Lyft, and Postmates are planning on fighting the legislation with a ballot measure that they’ve collectively spent $90 million to back, worried that the reclassification will result in lost revenue and an erosion of driver flexibility.

Scooter companies are also affected by the legislation: several startups use non-employee contractors tasked with picking up, charging, and sometimes maintaining scooters. Even before AB5 officially takes effect on January 1, 2020, the companies have been pushed to follow its mandate.

Last year, only two scooter companies, Scoot and Skip, were granted permission to operate in San Francisco in a one-year pilot. This year, the city decided to expand its scooter program. To win a permit to operate permanently from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, 11 e-scooter companies were asked to submit new applications that detailed their maintenance, business, and labor practices. In September, Joe Fitzgerald reported in the San Francisco Examiner that Spin knew that part of the reason its application was rejected last year was because it depended on independent contractors—and that in advance of this year’s application process, Spin was eying a union deal and “labor harmony agreement” with the Teamsters, because they believed the commitment to employee protections “may give them an edge” in the new application process. The S.F. Board of Supervisors signed a resolution endorsing AB5 in October.

That play appears to have worked, both for the company and its workers. The company, which reached the labor peace deal in September, became one of four scooter companies allowed to operate in the city. Its workers, classified as full employees, had been given the right to unionize, and on December 5, voted to do so. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the three other approved scooter companies—Lime, Jump, and Scoot—were ones that said the majority of their workers would be employees, not contractors (though that’s true of the others who were not accepted, too).

With the aid of an impending state law, and the threat of a ban, cities were newly able to pressure companies to strengthen employment practices. “It’s something they’re realizing they can do something about very easily,” said Veena Dubal, a labor expert and associate professor of law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “If cities are benefiting from city-issued licenses, then they need to abide by city and state law.” Spin has expressed its strong support of the union.

Dubal says other regulators in San Francisco—and across California—could use similar tactics. “If San Francisco can put this provision in the licensing agreement then can SF’s airport put the same provision in their licensing agreements with Uber and Lyft?” said Dubal. “That they have to be in compliance with state law and treating their drivers as employees?” Airport contracts are handled by the San Francisco International Airport Commission, which is governed by five mayor-appointed representatives.

In an email, Katie Wells, an Urban Studies Foundation postdoctoral research fellow for Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, said that the San Francisco supervisors’ push to limit the amount of e-scooters on the streets—alongside their embrace of AB5 fits—into a broader backlash “against the deregulation, market-oriented directions of government AND businesses in the past thirty-plus years.”

But critics of AB5 have warned of unintended consequences, including driving jobs and businesses out of the state. One unusual potential victim to the new regulation: freelance journalists. Under AB5, freelancers are only able to contribute 35 pieces to the same publication each year before they’re considered employees eligible for full benefits. This month, SFGate reported that Vox Media laid off all its California contributors for the sports website SB Nation, in favor of employing six full-time staffers, with potentially 20 positions opening up in 2020. (The writers who lost their jobs were told they were welcome to contribute without pay.)

San Francisco’s strict scooter permitting policies have also resulted in a loss of jobs. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chose not to approve Skip for the permanent pilot, the company laid off about three dozen San Francisco workers, the San Francisco Examiner reported. And after another scooter company, Bird, acquired Scoot earlier this year, about two dozen workers in San Francisco lost their jobs, too.

Tony Delorio, president of Teamsters Local 665, says they’ve been looking at how to get new positions at Spin for those laid-off by Scoot. “The people who were left aside, we’re grabbing them and putting them into jobs that are unionized,” he said. Under the current permitting regulations, each scooter company has been given the license to operate 500 scooters, with the opportunity to add 500 more by February. For every 250 scooters that are allowed on the road, Delorio estimates that 20 jobs are created.

By becoming the first scooter company to unionize, Spin has set off a ripple effect, Delorio says. “We are going to be aggressively going after the other three,” he said, and workers from those companies have already begun calling him. As the transportation industry changes, established unions like the Teamsters—a massive organization of 1.4 million members best known for representing truck and cab drivers—must reinvent themselves, too, he says, taking new workforces like tech shuttle drivers and the (recently discontinued) Ford-owned microtransit service Chariot under their wing. Micromobility is an obvious next frontier. “We had to go with the times and say the days of trucking have come and gone,” Delorio said. “We’re the A-to-Z union now.”

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Oslo Wants to Build the World’s First Zero-Emissions Port

The edge of Oslo’s Ekeberg Hill gives quiet, unobstructed views of the Nordic city’s islands and bustling port. At the Sjursøya container terminal, cranes swing around, stacking multicolor containers in neat rows and columns. On the other side of the port, ferries load and unload passengers. A massive cruise ship idles while its inhabitants wander around the city.

The Port of Oslo receives between 50 and 70 calls a week and 12,500 containers a month, and the ships and shore equipment help produce 55,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions a year. That last figure is what Oslo is trying to change. By 2030, the port aims to make an 85 percent reduction in its emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter, with the goal of becoming the world’s first zero-emissions port.

“It’s very ambitious, but at the same time it’s what is necessary if we are going to reach the Paris Agreement,” says Heidi Neilson, head of environment for the Port of Oslo. The port’s 17-point climate action plan includes refitting ferry boats, implementing a low-carbon contracting process, and installing shore power, which would allow boats to cut their engines and plug into the grid when docked.  

The effort is part of the city’s mandate to cut overall emissions by 95 percent by 2030—a decree that spares no person nor industry. The city’s climate budget and strategy is an all-hands atonement for the oil industry that made Norway into a very rich country.

The Sjursøya container terminal, and beyond it, cruise ships docked near the city center. (Port of Oslo)

“To reach the targets, all sectors have to reduce their emissions. Hence, the port and the maritime industry in Oslo must decarbonize at the same speed as the other sectors (i.e. energy supply, heating, construction, waste and combustion, road traffic),” writes Oslo Climate Agency Director Heidi Sørensen in an email to CityLab.

In August, the port signed a contract with Norwegian NGO the Bellona Foundation to move full speed ahead on cutting emissions—whether its users like it or not.

Freight’s big decarbonization challenge

According to the UN’s International Maritime Organization, between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s trade by volume is transported by sea on high-sulphur fuel oil—the dirtiest fuel there is. That’s about 94,000 vessels carrying 10 billion tons of crude, chemicals, corn, and cargo, to the tune of $4 trillion a year and nearly 4 percent of global GHG emissions.

In Oslo, container ships aren’t the only problem. Ferries running to Denmark and Germany are responsible for nearly 40 percent of port emissions, while local ferries account for 12 percent, and onshore handling and transport equipment accounts for 14 percent. To address local ferry emissions, the port awarded a contract to Norled, which is currently tasked with electrifying three of 10 existing passenger ships. When all three of these heavily used ferries are outfitted with batteries, Norled estimates the transit authority’s port emissions will decline by 70 percent. Norled delivered the first electric refit in September—a job that took 150 workers a combined total of 25,000 hours. MS Kongen now has the equivalent of 20 Tesla batteries on board.

Progress is slower when it comes to bigger ships. Cruise and cargo ships still can’t cross an ocean on battery power alone because of the cumbersome size and weight of the required batteries. Hydrogen is gaining traction as an environmentally friendly option compatible with long-haul shipping. The fuel emits water and can be produced with renewable electricity. Unfortunately, it’s also prohibitively expensive at this early stage in its maritime-sector development.

“Hydrogen is, I think, the only energy carrier that is completely CO2 free and able to power ships on longer sailings. If you need to get the ship to sail from Rotterdam to New York, you cannot do it with batteries. You can only do it with hydrogen,” says Alex Ruijs, a senior consultant with Royal HaskoningDHV who works on electrical power and energy in the maritime and aviation sectors. However, he adds, the fuel is still 10 to 15 years away from being commercially competitive. Technologies to reliably produce other synthetic fuels are also not yet economically viable.

The Bellona Foundation’s maritime senior advisor Christina Ianssen says shore power is a key element to maritime decarbonization that can be implemented right now. It would enable refitted ships to keep their lights, cooling systems, and other systems and equipment on by plugging in to the hydroelectric grid rather than running the engine. It would also power equipment like cranes, which normally run on diesel. “Even though [shore power] doesn’t solve all our problems, it helps push for a shift that is technically feasible today,” says Ianssen.

As with hydrogen, shore-power compatibility hasn’t reached the critical mass required to become economically attractive. So, getting shipowners on board may take both the carrot and the stick: Lower port fees and electricity costs to reward compliant ships, and revise contracting processes to command terminal builders and shipping companies to obey low-emission rules. “It sort of forces the shipowners to start investing in technologies they haven’t thought about before,” says Ianssen.

The green port movement gains steam

A handful of other ports around the world—in, for instance, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Auckland, the Spanish city of Valencia, Ecuador’s Guayaquil, and Baku in Azerbaijan—also have carbon-neutral and zero-emission dreams. In October 2019, the Port of Los Angeles unveiled two new battery-electric top loaders. Rotterdam, which is Europe’s biggest port, is using zero-emission port equipment.

But cutting maritime emissions is not only a local measure. The problem with solitary ports taking a firm environmental stance is that ships can simply head up- or downstream to a competitor port and unload their wares there. Then, the containers get driven around on land instead, defeating the purpose of a zero-emission policy. To counter this effect, Sørensen from Oslo’s climate agency and Neilson from the port say other Norwegian ports have to come on board.

Finding that common ground with local and international partners—and sometimes competitors—is essential to the green port movement. Neilson points to the collaboration between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which are technically competitors. “In Los Angeles, they have fierce competition in regard to the different terminals … but at the same time they say, ‘We don’t compete on security and we don’t compete on environment.’”

If ports in the Oslofjord and across the region can band together to do the same, Neilson is confident Oslo won’t lose business. But, if becoming zero-emission does mean losing customers in the short term, that’s a price the city is willing to pay. “I think it’s a powerful message that this is possible here, and it’s not just [possible] because we have a lot of funding,” says Neilson. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right development we need in many port cities around the world.”

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CityLab Daily: The Nation’s First Confederate Capital Elects a Black Mayor

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What We’re Following

Stars fell on Alabama: Earlier this week, Steven Reed won two-thirds of the vote to become the first African-American mayor of Montgomery, Alabama—in its 200th year of existence. Reed’s win adds to the growing number of black mayors currently governing major southern cities, including Richmond, Birmingham, Charlotte, Jackson, New Orleans, and Atlanta. But Reed’s win resonates beyond Montgomery for other historic reasons.

The capital of Alabama is perhaps best known for the famous bus boycott led by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. that spawned the modern-day civil rights movement. But before that, Montgomery was where the government for the Confederate States of America was first created. With monuments and museums dedicated to those two histories in Montgomery, one of Reed’s biggest challenges could be reconciling the segregation and divisions that those historic markers lay bare. CityLab’s Brentin Mock has the story: The Nation’s First Confederate Capital Elects a Black Mayor

P.S. We will be off Monday for whatever your city calls the federal holiday. See you on Tuesday.

Andrew Small

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This Is What Adapting to Climate Change Looks Like

PG&E’s blackouts in California are a bleak preview of the disruptions that will become routine in a warmer world.

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

(David Montgomery/CityLab)

You might think that urban planners would congregate in big coastal metros or cities that top the lists and rankings of “best places.” But some of the highest concentrations of planning jobs can  be found in U.S. state capitals, like Sacramento, Honolulu, Austin, and Raleigh. Many other places suffer from below-average concentrations of planners, marked in blue on the map above by CityLab’s David Montgomery. Richard Florida took a look at where planning jobs are paying the most, and where they’re growing the most. Read more on CityLab: America’s Hottest Cities for Urban Planners

What We’re Reading

What Jeff Bezos wants (The Atlantic)

Inside Copenhagen’s race to be the first carbon-neutral city (The Guardian)

What’s lost when a local newspaper withers (Bloomberg)

Minneapolis suspended its scooters ahead of Trump’s rally (The Verge)

How lawmakers are upending the California lifestyle to fight a housing shortage (Los Angeles Times)

Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

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The First Black Mayor of Montgomery, the Cradle of the Confederacy

In 1944, the African-American attorney Arthur Madison was disbarred after challenging the literacy tests in his home city of Montgomery, Alabama, that were constructed to prevent black people from registering to vote. Today, Montgomery is poised to install its first African-American mayor, Steven Reed, in the capital city of what was once one of the most hostile states toward black participation in democracy. Reed won two-thirds of the votes from Tuesday’s election to succeed Mayor Todd Strange, who’s led the city since 2009.

Montgomery’s population is 60 percent African American, but five of its nine city council members are white, including its president, which speaks to the level of racial segregation and political polarization that still exists in the city known for spawning the modern-day civil rights movement. The question is whether Reed’s election is a signal that black voting strength here is finally reaching its unencumbered potential, or a sign that whites are abandoning southern urban enclaves like Montgomery to reinforce their political power in the south’s suburban and rural districts.

It’s beyond dispute that African-Americans have been politically empowered since the days when Alabama was siccing dogs and spraying firehoses at black people to stop them from voting. As Associated Press race reporter Errin Whack pointed out on Twitter, the number of black people registered to vote has multiplied considerably since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Reed was elected despite Alabama’s many attempts to make voting harder for black people in recent years.

Reed’s win adds to the growing number of African-American mayors currently governing major southern cities, including Levar Stoney, who was elected mayor of Richmond, Virginia, in 2016. Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Alabama; Vi Lyles, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina; Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, Mississippi; Latoya Cantrell of New Orleans and Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, all were elected in 2017.

Add in this week’s election of Timothy Ragland as the first black mayor of Talladega, Alabama and it’s close to a certified sweep. Governing Magazine asked in 2017 where all the black mayors went: It’s clear they went south.

Reed’s win is particularly notable, though, because it happened in a city that has a legacy steeped in voting rights and civil rights agency. When black activists such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged from Montgomery in the 1950s, they were merely trying to win equal legal protections that had been granted on paper to emancipated African Americans nearly 100 years prior.

Yet, while Montgomery is regarded as an epicenter for civil rights activism today, before that, it was known as a primary headquarters for the slave trade inside the U.S. and the Confederate government. Throughout the 19th century, Montgomery was one of the most active slave trading sites in the country—by 1860, two-thirds of Montgomery County’s population was enslaved black people, many of whom arrived there through the trading posts located in downtown Montgomery.

Montgomery is also where the government of the Confederate States of America was created and where its first president lived in 1861, though only for a few months before they were relocated to Richmond, Virginia. Walking through Montgomery today, you’d never know that the Confederate government’s tenure there was so short-lived. The Confederate White House still exists, supported by state tax dollars, in pristine condition in Montgomery, sitting directly across the street from the Alabama State Capitol and the Alabama State House buildings.

And though former Alabama governor Robert Bentley took the rebel Confederate flag down from state capitol grounds, there is no shortage of Confederate monuments, statues, street names, and other memorabilia situated throughout the city. A statue of Jefferson Davis still stands in front of the state capitol building.

Reed is a black mayor stepping into that landscape of painful reminders of the grip of white supremacy as captured in those Confederate markers. It’s a legacy that has as much claim on the first black mayor’s election as does the city’s civil rights heritage.

“Since we are the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement, we have to begin to look at how to reconcile these two histories,” says Georgette Norman, a local historian who served as the first director of the Rosa Parks Museum at Montgomery’s Troy University. “We have been looking at this as an either-or kind of history. I’m hoping this new mayor looks at an all-inclusive memory … to look at both things and how they intersect.”

Up until maybe a year ago, you didn’t have to go far in Montgomery to find monuments and memorabilia dedicated to Confederate history, but you had to go out of your way to find dedicated monuments to civil rights history. The grounds have shifted on that front, though. In 2018, the civil rights legal organization Equal Justice Initiative opened The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which sits across six acres of land near downtown Montgomery, dedicated to the thousands of black victims of lynching and racial terror throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. EJI also opened the Legacy Museum in downtown Montgomery to exhibit how black families were torn apart and sold off during slavery, and how black mobility was constrained and criminalized in the years after slavery.

Norman is currently working on building the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium, identifying dozens of places throughout Montgomery, and beyond around Alabama, that have historical significance, and listing them in the World Monuments Fund. Reed’s election seems a reflection of this shift in the complexion of who and what Montgomery is deciding to honor.

The challenge for Reed is escaping the trap of simply being a “First Black” who falls short of bringing the kind of demonstrative change for black people that is expected from the African-American leaders they elect. That kind of change is needed in areas like west Montgomery, where the bulk of the city’s lowest income African American families have been sequestered for decades. In the early 1960s, Alabama built a highway exchange system that ravaged hundreds of black homes, businesses, and communities, and the black families living to the west of Interstate 65 haven’t recovered since.

A study last year conducted by Envision Montgomery 2040, meanwhile, revealed “a concentration of poorly rated structures or blighted properties on the city’s west side.” It was just last year that “for the first time since 1963,” the city began a comprehensive citywide development plan that will be guided by community input.

But plans are already afoot to build a new recreation and entertainment district on the westside that will include a waterpark complete with a “climbing tower, bouldering wall, canopy high ropes course, beer garden with additional concessions, retail shopping and an amphitheater”—a $50 million investment from the city and county that is scheduled to open in 2022.

Reed will have to manage that project without it leading to mass displacement of poor, black families, which would be further injury to those already incurred though the highway expansion project of the 60s.

Perry Varner, a black entrepreneur and social media strategist who was born in Montgomery and lived there most of his life, is hopeful that Reed’s administration will open up doors for African Americans to benefit from this new westside waterpark enterprise. He opened and managed several small businesses in Montgomery in the 2000s, when the city was transforming its once-barren downtown into a hotel-and-dining paradise.

However, “[most] of the businesses in downtown Montgomery are owned by people who don’t look like [black people], and that’s true for everything from contracting to business ownership—we haven’t had a chance to capitalize on any of it,” says Perry. “That’s why we are looking for leadership from Reed to give people of color and LGBTQ people new opportunities here ,because while Montgomery has been growing, we’ve been left out of the opportunity gap.”

Montgomery’s overall population has actually experienced a slight decline since its 2010 peak population of 205,764. The drop is driven by white people leaving the city in droves—a 30 percent decrease between 2000 and 2016. Meanwhile, the city’s Asian, Latino, and African-American population has risen significantly—the black population alone added 20,000 residents, driving up its representation from 50 percent of the population in 2000 to 60 percent today. Which helps explain how Montgomery was finally able to, in its 200th year of existence, finally elect a black mayor.

Varner was not part of that black population growth. He left the city in 2010 to pursue opportunities that he felt were lacking in Montgomery at the time for black creatives. He eventually landed in Birmingham, where he says many creatives of color have fled to, along with nearby Atlanta, when they couldn’t find a clear path to wealth in Montgomery. Varner says it will take Reed a few terms to make real change, but that under the new black leadership he’d move back to Montgomery “in a heartbeat” if the right opportunities emerged.

”It’s been my dream to live in a Montgomery under this kind of leadership with visible unlimited potential and where glass ceilings have been broken,” said Varner, “and to bring back what I’ve learned living in Atlanta, New York City, and Birmingham to help be a part of the movement that turns Montgomery into a cultural epicenter of the South.”

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