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May 25th, 2022

Universal basic mobility: Cities tackle the transport gap with free transit, e-bikes and car sharing

In a car-dependent city like Los Angeles, life is much trickier for those who cannot drive or afford a vehicle of their own. In fact, local transport authorities estimate that residents can reach 12 times as many jobs with a car as they can with public transit.

Last month, the city launched a new pilot to close that gap. It now offers some 2,000 residents of underprivileged neighbourhoods $150 (€142) in monthly aid for public bus and train fares, as well as on-demand shuttles and scooter, bike and electric vehicle rentals.

LA is just one of the latest cities in the world to embrace “universal basic mobility” - the idea that all citizens should have a decent range of affordable transport options, regardless of their socioeconomic status or disabilities. It’s similar to the idea of universal basic income but focuses on transportation to fight inequalities.

“Everyone should have access to a basic level of mobility,” Robin Hickman, a professor in transport and city planning at University College London (UCL), told Euronews Next.

“Yet, currently we tend to plan transport systems for a group of wealthy people who have extremely high levels of individual mobility,” he said.

In England, about 1.5 million people are at high risk of being transport poor, a government study found in 2019. This figure has likely grown since the start of the pandemic.

Multiple disadvantages, based on socioeconomic circumstances, location and movement impairment, prevent certain people from using transport. Ethnic minorities, students, the elderly and women are all said to be particularly at risk of transport poverty.

A growing global movement is proposing universal basic mobility as the solution to democratise transportation. At the heart of this concept lies the belief that a mix of partnerships and policies should provide support to cover travel costs and ensure that everyone can access mobility safely and effectively.

The idea has been referred to not only as a human right but also as a foundational pillar for a healthy economy.

The aim is to have various public services linked together effectively through transportation - both on a fixed-route or on-demand model - either free or at a low price, offering sustainable travel options and favouring employment.

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