Lessons from a Universal Basic Mobility program

Short article and interview with Quinn Wallace, transportation planner at the Oakland Department of Transportation, on some of the results of the Universal Basic Mobility program run in 2021 by the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT). The program started providing 500 restricted and prepaid debit cards to volunteer participants in East Oakland, each card contained up to $300 and could be used to purchase trips on public transit, bikeshares, and e-scooters between November 2021 and November 2022.

According to a program evaluation, the pilot was successful in reaching low-income participants who identify as Hispanic/Latino or Black/African American. In a mid-program survey, 40% of participants said they changed how they travel, with 23% saying they drove alone less often. “Participants rode transit more and drove less as their primary mode of transportation for [commuting] and other trips,” according to the survey. […]

The other part of our project goal, in addition to increasing shared mobility, is reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips [as] part of our transportation demand management program at the city, and we found, through our second survey of folks using the cards, [that] about 40% reported driving less as a result of this program.

Even though a secondary goal was to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips, the program organisers made sure to distribute cards while respecting a representative sample of the neighbourhood’s racial and income profile and focusing on people who would most benefit from better access to transportation, not on drivers.

The program proved high enough in demand to start looking at longer-term and citywide iterations in the future.

“[W]e saw that demand was quite high and that residents and employees of Oakland are interested in this kind of program. We’re building our capacity to be able to scale this citywide, and that’s been really exciting.”

One last note on the pilot; contrary to other such programs across the US, they simply provided money by way of the cards mentioned above, “rather than [giving them] up to $50 in coupons for this scooter brand and x amount of money for the bus and the train.” More flexibility for users, no built-in assumptions, and no favouring of specific corporate partners.

Image: Denys Argyriou on Unsplash.