What is universal basic mobility?

People who have access to transit have more opportunities. Universal basic mobility is the idea that everyone should have that.

Driving can be convenient, but it can be a hassle, too. Consider insurance, parking, pollution, and traffic. Plus, you can’t play “Candy Crush” (or read this newsletter) on your morning commute if you’re driving.

And while you may wish you could drive less, other people — including those with certain disabilities — can’t drive at all.

Enter universal basic mobility (UBM), a concept in which everyone has access to reliable, affordable transit. The name comes from universal basic income, a system where everyone gets some financial support from the government.

Why do people want UBM?

Los Angeles Department of Transportation GM Seleta Reynolds recently championed UBM at a transportation conference and Bloomberg CityLab called it a human right in 2018.

Essentially, people who can get around enjoy more opportunities, including in education, employment, and health care. This leads to greater success and happiness:

  • A 2019 study found that between 1960 and 2014, poverty in the US fell from 24% to 14%. But for households without cars, it slightly increased. The only place poverty didn’t increase was New York City, which has a robust public transit system.
  • Another study found 80% of people who don’t drive due to a disability and 40% of older adults can’t do what they need or want, resulting in feelings of frustration or isolation.

So, how would UBM help?

Several UBM pilots are underway, and most work by linking services. So instead of just driving or taking the bus, you’d use a mix of public transit, shared bikes and scooters, ride and car shares, and microtransit services.

  • In Oakland, California, ~500 participants will get a $300 debit card to use on public transit, bikes, scooters, and car shares, per Bloomberg.
  • A Bakersfield, California, program will give participants free bus passes, plus up to 5 rides per day on Spin e-bikes and scooters.
  • Spin is also involved in Pittsburgh’s UBM pilot, which uses Move PGH, a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) app that integrates a variety of transit options, including electric mopeds.

Fun fact: If MaaS apps sound interesting, check out Whim, a Finnish app that allows users to book transit, bikes, scooters, ferry tickets, rental cars, and more in 1 place.

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