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Why Universal Basic Mobility is an economic necessity for an autonomous future
Vincent Varney

Vincent Varney

Ever-innovating technologies promise to revolutionize how people move around, but tech isn’t the only aspect of modern mobility in need of an overhaul.

It's undeniable that the way people move from A to B is changing, between the rise of bike-sharing and ride-sharing, to the advancement of autonomous vehicles, and the introduction of platforms offering Mobility as a Service (MaaS). But what about mobility as a right?

While these developments aim to make commuting easier and more efficient, the improvements will only be felt by those who already have access to transport. Those who don’t are at risk of being left behind, and the ramifications will affect their economies as well. This is why the notion of Universal Basic Mobility (UBM) is worthy of a serious discussion.

Much like how Universal Basic Income is a concept that seeks to address income inequality and its ripple effect, UBM sets out to tackle employment inequality. Poor mobility correlates with high rates of unemployment, leaving those in poverty-stricken areas with even fewer opportunities for upward social movement.

It’s not hard to imagine how a lack of affordable options for getting around can perpetuate the cycle of poverty. In a city with limited or no public transport, employment is dependent on having a reliable car, and losing one of these things rapidly escalates the risk of losing the other. UBM has the potential to be a safety net for these situations, thus helping local economies ensure their own strength and productivity by guaranteeing that residents have access to job opportunities, medical care and other necessities.

We already have what it takes to understand which parts of cities are underserved – tools like our Urban Mobility Index provide detailed information on how populations move and at what cost. In order to achieve UBM in areas with inadequate means of economical transport, their governments to invest in more robust public transit networks, though developing the infrastructure is expensive and time-intensive. One Californian city, however, has taken an approach that’s significantly cheaper and quicker to accomplish.

In September 2018, Oakland’s local council approved a plan to see electric scooter-sharing stations distributed throughout the city. 50 percent of the scooters are required to be stationed in areas that are inhabited by disadvantaged and minority residents, or where vehicle ownership is scarce. Furthermore, low-income riders will be able to complete an unlimited number of short trips for just $5 a year.

And this idea isn’t entirely novel, as it taps into one of the tenets of MaaS platforms: that where one method of transport is insufficient, another should be able to make up the shortfall. Just as bike-sharing systems are steadily on the rise, and Navigogo in Scotland and Denmark’s MinRejseplan combine multiple modes of transport that complement one another, Oakland’s scooter strategy gives residents better access to other public transport options, again making them more mobile and giving them more potential to better their livelihoods.

UBM is just one of the many ways we could see the movement of people transform in the near future. And while it may not seem as high-tech as other changes to transport, it stands to improve the lives of a lot of people.