The concept of universal basic income (UBI) is being tested in cities around the world to explore how no-strings-attached payments can improve standards of living for vulnerable individuals. Now, some cities are looking beyond payments and embracing “universal basic mobility” as another strategy to empower marginalized workers while encouraging a green transportation future.
In Bakersfield, California, for example, 100 young residents have been selected to take part in a year-long study to examine how free access to public transit, e-scooters and e-bikes affects their lives and independence. Bakersfield has one of the highest rates of “youth disconnection” in the country, with 18,500 people between ages 18 and 24 neither in school nor working in 2019. A big issue in youth disconnection is the lack of public transportation to connect young adults with work and school opportunities.
Bakersfield isn’t the only city exploring how mobility empowers residents. In Oakland, 500 residents will receive $300 prepaid debit cards to be used for transit and shared mobility services. Pittsburgh is exploring a similar program with 50 young adults, and Los Angeles is focusing their grant-supported mobility efforts in South LA.
Mobility is a huge aspect of financial and social security. “We know that access to mobility has an impact on people’s overall sense of security,” said Angela Sanguinetti, a research environmental psychologist. “If you don’t have reliable access to places you need to go, that can cause a lot of anxiety.”
Increased worker mobility allows workers to get more out of their jobs by not having to spend hard-earned money on expensive and ineffective transportation systems. Additionally, it could help address the US’ hiring crunch which has left many entry-level and service positions vacant.
Critics of the programs note that cities must pair these programs with effective and sustainable public transportation systems for them to be truly effective. Transportation schemes in other countries, like Austria’s Klimaticket, could help provide a model for what a truly integrated universal basic mobility system would look like in the US.