S2E06: Universal Basic Mobility

May 19, 2022

Andy Keeton

VP Global Strategy

Between the Lines S2E06: Universal Basic Mobility

with Quinn Wallace


Why will Universal Basic Mobility help save the planet?

On this week's episode of Between the Lines, we chat with Quinn Wallace. Quinn is a Transportation Planner in the City of Oakland Department of Transportation's Mobility Management Team. With OakDOT, she leads transportation demand management efforts and the demand-responsive parking program. Quinn also coordinates OakDOT's internship programs and supports the Department's Racial Equity Team. Prior to working at the City of Oakland, Quinn worked as a consultant in the Bay Area and received her Master of Planning from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

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Episode Transcript

[Voiceover] Commutifi presents "Between the Lines" with Andy Keeton. Each week we explore the challenging issues transportation demands management professionals face on their journey to transition commuters from driving alone to most sustainable, shared, and active commuting habits. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlist on Spotify. This is Between the Lines with Andy Keeton.

[Andy Keeton] Hi everyone and welcome aboard to this week's episode of Between the Lines. Today we have a really, really interesting topic to discuss, in fact, just earlier today I was talking with colleagues at Commutifi. We've found this story, separate from myself finding this story, and multiple people have been like this is such an interesting idea. So, it's really great timing, and we're really excited to have Quinn Wallace on today. Quinn, thanks for being on.

[Quinn Wallace] Thank you, Andy, it's great to be here.

[Andy Keeton] I give a little background to who you are. Quinn is a Transportation Planner, at the City of Oakland Department of Transportation's Mobility Management Team, also known as OakDOT. She leads transportation demand management, or TDM efforts. And the demand response of parking program there. She also coordinates their internship programs and supports the Department's racial equity team. And prior to joining the City of Oakland, she worked as a consultant in the Bay Area. She received her Masters of Planning from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. So, a wealth of knowledge. And today we're really excited to talk about, honestly, a really interesting pilot that you've been running at OakDOT, called The Universal Basic Mobility program. And why this idea of Universal Basic Mobility will help save the planet. So, Quinn, let's get started. This is a new topic, it was new to me when I saw it, I'm sure a lot of our listeners haven't heard of it before. What is Universal Basic Mobility?

[Quinn Wallace] The term came out of the shared mobility space, I believe. Here at OakDOT we're defining it as a system of policies, partnerships, programs and support services that would insure an acquirable level of mobility for all members of the community, especially those who have been and continue to be denied such right.

[Andy Keeton] Cool, that makes sense. So, this is about supporting all individuals and giving them that kind of ability to use, to have an effective mobility system and using an effective mobility system. Can you tell me- I think it's probably best to just jump in your pilot, because I think our listeners are probably really interested in hearing how it's gone for you. So, can you tell us a little bit more about the Universal Basic Mobility Pilot, maybe starting with how someone qualified to participate in it.

[Quinn Wallace] Absolutely. Our Universal Basic Mobility Pilot, launched in 2021, we have about 500 program participants who were randomly selected to receive $300 for public transit and shared mobility. The pilot program was originally closely connected to our newly opened BRT line, called AC Transit Tempo. And we actually expanded to include all of the East Oakland flatlands and our project area in response to COVID challenges. The pilot is funded by a grant from our local County Transportation Commission, and we had about $243 000, of which $150 000 were direct subsidies to our program participants. To qualify for the program, anybody who lives or works in East Oakland was able to qualify. We asked them to take a survey, in which we asked about how folks travel and also some select demographic indicators. We actually received a thousand applications in our initial survey. Unfortunately we only had funds to randomly select 500, but I think that goes to show that there is a lot of demand and excitement about this kind of project.

[Andy Keeton] That's really cool, giving people money to use transit is great, I mean, it sounds amazing. A thousand people though, for this first time. This is the first year you're running the pilot, and one of the first that I've heard of the release kind of nationwide. So, it's probably not something most people be familiar with. I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about how you marketed this program to potential participants.

[Quinn Wallace] Definitely, yes. Since we launched during the pandemic, we used a variety of methods that were in our toolbox, so to speak. We send out mailers to all addresses near the newly opened BRT line, we also"flyered" at bus stops as writers were getting on and off transit, we stuck our program flyer in their hand and invited them to apply for the survey, and just like a quick sample about what the program was about. We tabled at libraries throughout East Oakland, and we really couldn't've marketed this program without the help of many community organizations. There were a lot of community orgs that helped us get the word out, and make the program better, at kind of every stage we worked with a couple of local CBOs and consulted with them during program design, we actually got to ride with two local high school bike clubs and pass out some prepaid cards to some of their students, and there were just countless CBOs that helped us get the word out by putting a blur about the Universal Basic Mobility Pilot in their newsletter, or just got the word out through their networks.

[Andy Keeton] Can you quickly define CBO for everyone? Just in case they haven't heard that term.

[Quinn Wallace] Yes, definitely. CBO is a Community-Based organization, like a non-profit or just a local formal or informal community org that's working in the community.

[Andy Keeton] Cool. That sounds great, obviously worked, I mean you had a thousand people to take that initial survey, twice as many as you could actually have in the pilot, which is, I mean, that's really great. Hopefully one day we can get all thousands of them, let's see if this actually worked well, I'm gonna get to that question in a second, but first you mentioned that you were giving people up to $300 I think it was, there was a mention of kind of a prepaid card. Can you just talk a little bit more? Maybe for those people who are sitting at their similar position to you, in their own cities and same way, this is a really good idea. How is that actually work? How do you actually give this money to people? Where can that money be used? How does this system work?

[Quinn Wallace] That's such an important question, I really appreciate you asking it. And it was one of the challenges for me and for our team in designing and figuring out this program. We're excited to get the word out about how we use the prepaid cards and how they work. These prepaid debit cards have restrictions so that the funds on them can only be used at certain types of purchases or even with specific kind of "cellar." We were able to restrict the cards by merchant category code, and one of our category codes for example was all public transportation. So, that would include Clipper Card, which is our integrated transit fare provider in the Bay Area, as well as AC Transit, our bus operator, BART that runs our subway and so on. We were also able to restrict down to the merchant ID levels, which is actually quite important since we had shared mobility as part of our program. A lot of E Scooter operators didn't necessarily start out as E Scooter operators, for example. One of our operators in Oakland had a merchant category code of like motorcycle shops, and that just wasn't gonna work for our program, so we had to go down to this specific merchant ID level, so that it could only be used with those specific shared mobility providers, as well as just general public transportation. The cards are set up to be as anonymous as possible, so we didn't actually collect any names of our program participants. We did mail out the cards to individual participants addresses in East Oakland and when they got the card it had $150 on there initially. We downloaded the card remotely with their second $150 after they took the second survey, saying how they did, how their travel did or didn't change as a result of the program, we asked if there had any issues with the card, and so on. The cards been self expired a year after they've been issued, so even though on paper our program is formally ended, our grant has expired, but our program participants are able to keep using the funds until they don't have any left.

[Andy Keeton] That's great, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I like the idea of opening it up, you've mentioned it was in line with the opening of a new bus rapid transit or BRT line, but you could use this anywhere, that might not be the best choice for everyone, depending on where they're going and where they live, so that makes a lot of sense to open this up to, not just public transit but also shared mobility, I think that's a really cool idea. And those prepaid cards make a lot of sense. I mean I am a big fan of prepaid cards. Commutifi has kind of a similar one ourselves, and we're like yes, this is awesome, I love the idea. So, you mentioned that the grant's over, the project on paper is done, but it still kind of going on as people are finishing up using those cards. What key insights have you gained? What should people know about this? Maybe good, maybe some bad, if someone else is trying to do a similar program, what should they take from yours?

[Quinn Wallace] I think there's a lot to be taken from our program, in a lot of different ways. We've had a lot of project wins and lessons that we've, we've met our project goal, which was increasing walking, biking, transit and shared mobility use in East Oakland while reducing single-occupancy-vehicle car trips. About 25% of our program participants at our initial evaluation reported driving less as a result of the program. -(Andy Keeton) Wow - (Quinn Wallace) About 40% generally changed the way that they travel as a result to the program, and we saw a self-reported increase in transit trips for both commute and for non-commute trips. I should say that we had kind of two buckets of data to evaluate and in our program evaluation we had the self-reported survey data from the initial intake survey, as well as the mid-program survey, before folks had that second $150. And then we also had our other bucket of data, from kind of behind-the-scenes of the prepaid cards, that shows generally x percents of all funds across all cards were spent on Clipper Card, just general public transit fare or AC Transit and scooters and so on. One of the real insights that I think we were able to see from the prepaid cards is that the transactions really ranged, from a few cents, like a dollar so for scooter trips, to $150 for loading up a person's Clipper Card just all in one go. Yeah, I think we've seen a lot of exciting outcomes in that sense, and we've also had some real lessons learnt as well. Our biggest one is definitely that distribution method really matters, for these funds. We chose to mail out all of our prepaid cards to individuals' addresses and unfortunately there were a lot of issues with getting those cards to individuals through the mail, just kind of everything that you can think of, cards been like lost or stolen out of the mailboxes, just never reaching the participant, address line too been ocasionally left off, all of that happens, so we saw a lower activation rate initially than expected, likely due to those cards not being received, or to folks not necessarily knowing what it was when they got it in the mail, but we've since pivoted to provide an in-person replacement pick up card options, we've also done e-mail, text and call campaigns to boost our activation rates and make sure everybody knows how to use those cards, and knows how to get that second $150 and so on.

[Andy Keeton] So, first of all, congrats. This seems incredibly successful, I mean just the numbers you mentioned are impressive, for any program that's impressive, so this is really good to see. I like that, learning, too. The mail seems, that would seem logical, but I suppose you know, so you're gonna run into something with every program. So, it's good to hear that you were able to pivot quickly and get that activation up in the end. So, one of the things I like, we were talking about this before we started recording, is that, one of the benefits of this to me seems that is Universal Basic Mobility can help both empower people to try new modes of something they haven't potentially tried before, you mentioned several people increasing their public transit rate, on commuting and non-communing trips, or just using their car less. But also it rewards and hopefully retains existing transit riders. You don't wanna just give this money to someone who's never used transit before and say "go use transit," and people who are using transit are saying, "wait a second, what about me? I've been doing the right thing for 20 years, I should be rewarded." Is that true? Like that's intuition I have, is that a true, a good intuition? And did you see that work? Did people who use transit continue to use transit or potentially use it more?

[Quinn Wallace] People who didn't use transit, start using it or shared mobility. You know, wherever it was. Yeah, definitely. I would say that your intuition is spot on there, and this was part. This was really important to us, especially at the outset of this pilate. We were really grappling with how to meet our transportation demand management goals and the TDM-like flavor of this pilate, while meeting our equity goals as a department, and keeping those at the forefront of our work. So, I think that you know, at each kind of stage of our pilot program, we wanted to help empower people to try new modes as well as reward those who were already doing the right thing and taking sustainable modes already. So, you know, at the beginning to select our program participants, we have our 500 program participants are a demographically representative sample of East Oakland. So, we selected that random representative sample according to household income, and identified race that we asked about in the initial survey. We didn't even ask about. You know, car ownership in that initial survey. Because we knew that not all of our residents in this area have access to a car or have or own a car themselves. And so, we know that we're going to have to compromise a little bit on that goal by keeping a focus on equity. So, I think as the program went along, it really became about reducing financial barriers to accessing sustainable transportation and to reward those, who were already helping us you know, work toward our climate goals and work toward our sustainable transportation goals and have kind of a balance there. What we know about lower-income households, generally, is that they spend more on their transportation costs than higher income households? What we know about our program participants is over half of our program participants reported that they sometimes cannot afford their preferred transportation mode. And that transit is a primary mode of mobility for our program participants. So, I think it's you know, a lot of TDM programs really take the approach of targeting car owners, people who are commuting by car. For example, and not necessarily looking at like the whole picture of mobility in an area and that is really something that we tried to do with this program. And when it comes to, you know, helping people figure out how to ride bike share and scooters for the first time. A lot of that kind of education and connections were made in person. When we were tabling and talking about the program for the first time, you know, asking when, because when we were out there and saying that okay, this $300 is going to be for transit and shared mobility. Then it's this question of, have you ridden a scooter before? Do you know where our closest Bikeshare station is? And more of a question about how people travel and get around. So yeah, in addition to what we've provided to our program participants, we're also advertising all of our main space discount transportation programs in one spot in one spot for the first time. And that's available for everybody on our website.

[Andy Keeton] That's great. And yeah, we've talked about you know, accessibility and equity in previous episodes, as well. And I, like you've mentioned, transit is a much higher proportion of a lower-income individual's expenses than someone who's making more money. So, it's great that this type of program has now been piloted. And hopefully, not only in Oakland but other places around the country, we can start to see maybe this idea take off. And I really liked the idea that you mentioned. You've mentioned the data side, the data-driven approach to this where. Let's see where people are to start. And then let's see where people are to end. I wonder if, Are you going to collect data again? Are you going to be able to collect data again in a year or two years? And see if this mode shift sticks with it even after you no longer give people kind of that initial incentive?

[Quinn Wallace] We're certainly considering it. And we'd like to be able to do so. We have you know, emails and phone numbers for our program participants. So, it's not necessarily that wouldn't be the barrier, per se. I think it's more of a challenge of capacity and also making sure that we're asking those questions, while you know, being conscientious that previously, when we ask those kinds of questions. We gave our program participants money. So, if we're going to ask those questions like, what's the benefit for program participants in the long run?

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, that makes sense. It'll be really interesting. Obviously, I'm going to be following this closely and see where this goes. Hopefully, this this program keeps growing. I am really impressed by what what's already been done and excited to see where it goes. One of the things I want to talk about. Because you brought this up as well before we were talking before we started recording. And I thought it was really interesting. So, I'm going to quote you and then ask you to tell us what this means. So, you talked about the idea of targeted universalism. And you said that applying targeted universalism to mobility can help practitioners prioritize the greatest barriers to transportation. while acknowledging and working toward solutions on other challenges. I thought that was really well said. Can you just explain that a bit to folks? What do you mean by this? What's targeted universalism? What is this idea? And why does you know, it ties into this idea of universal basic mobility?

[Quinn Wallace] Definitely, yeah. Oh, man, I think that quote makes me sound a lot more insightful than I maybe am. I'll do my best.

[Andy Keeton] No, no. You came up with it. So, obviously, it's as insightful as you are.

[Quinn Wallace] Well, so, our understanding of targeted universalism is that It's about setting a universal goal, and meeting diverse needs in order to achieve that goal. So, the idea is that everybody can kind of buy into the school. Because it's beneficial to everyone. So, a universal goal that could apply for this program might be an individual. And Oaklander can go anywhere by any sustainable mode anytime they want, You know, just no barriers, no problems, and everybody can get everywhere, by transit, by scooters, by bike Share, and so on. So, that I think where the real kicker comes in, is how you get to achieving that goal. So, you're going to have some people who are going to be closer to achieving that goal right now than other people. So, the idea is to focus on the people who kind of needs the most like, help or support in getting to that goal. It might not always be who you think it is. While continuing to acknowledge that not everybody is there yet. And you know if we're focusing 10 times more on this group of people, we're still sometimes focusing on this other group of people who may have more privilege and more access to those kinds of modes. They might live in really transit-rich areas, for example, versus some other folks who may have income challenges and may have mobility challenges, or live in a transit desert and things like that So, the idea is that everybody's needs are different. But we're going to help everybody get to that goal. Because that's what everybody wants to see for our city, for example.

[Andy Keeton] Well said. You backed up your insightfulness as well. I mean, it's a really cool idea as well. I love this idea of targeted universalism. And It makes all sense, universal basic mobility certainly plays into that. So, we're kind of getting to the end of our time. And well, I'd like to have this conversation forever, and we've already had a conversation before this, So, I've talked about this a lot. I'll keep talking about it. But we have one final question. For those who have listened before or watched your videos before, you know, we ask all of our participants or all of our guests. Thinking of participants, we have a pilot going on universal basic mobility, all of our guests this final question. So, why will universal basic mobility help save the planet?

[Quinn Wallace] I think the short answer is, it's going to help save the planet because it already is. UBM will help save the planet by promoting access to sustainable mobility and by making our mobility system more equitable. And I think, you know, this is a kind of program or idea that can be replicable as well. And it's like personally, my dream to see a universal basic mobility pilot or program launched in every city in the US. Because there's a lot that can be gained from this work. And so many benefit that can be received from this kind of work as well. So, it's only one piece of the puzzle. You know, it's transportation demand management issue. But it's a really important piece to get people riding buses, trains, scooters, bike share and everything else that your city provides. Yeah, universal basic mobility is going to help save the planet because it already is. Well, you've got an ally and me. I'm sure plenty more of our listeners are going to listen to this and think, how can we bring this to our cities. Incredible conversation, a great program. I love asking that final question. I feel like if you watch closely, you'd see like a wry smile on my face after asking it. Because it's always like a little bit of a stumper. But this one, yeah.

[Andy Keeton] It's true. It already is saving the planet. I really liked this program. Quinn, I mean, thanks again for doing this, first of all. And then thanks for coming on and talking to everyone. Like I agree with you. I want to see this everywhere. I hope our listeners will feel the same way, and all reach out to you. And you'll get an influx of emails from people saying, how do I do this where I live. But thanks again for being on. This was a great conversation.

[Quinn Wallace] Oh, of course. It's my pleasure, Andy. And thanks for being a great host and asking such good questions.

[Andy Keeton] That's what I do. That's the my one job. I get it figured out how to ask cool questions. And you get to do the fun part. And tell us all the interesting information. I just asked some questions. So, it was great having you on to everyone listening, thanks again for joining us. If you haven't yet, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter. You can do that at between the lines.io. And you'll get an email every time we have a new episode. And that's important because you can then follow along with the conversation, we'll usually put in some additional resources of where you can learn more. Just you know, check out what's going on in the space, and if you haven't yet. I said it's every week. But make sure you check out the video as well on YouTube. It's also now up on Spotify. You can watch it on your phone, and did it the other week. It's pretty interesting. It's the future. Podcasts are now videos as well. So, you'll definitely want to check it out. You can see my hairstyle is changing over time. If that's interesting to you, And yeah, make sure you tune in again in a couple of weeks for our next episode. But thanks for joining. And thanks again Quinn, it was great.

[Quinn Wallace] Thanks, Andy.

[Andy Keeton] Bye, everyone. We'll see everyone next time.

[Voiceover] Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of between the lines with Andy Keeton. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode. And check out our exclusive community playlist on Spotify.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.

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