Lessons From Oakland's Universal Basic Mobility Pilot

A program that distributed prepaid, transit-only debit cards to 500 Oakland residents has been successful in shifting transportation patterns for many of its participants.

2 minute read

April 11, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


A view of the Oakland, California skyline in Downtown.

eddie-hernandez.com / Shutterstock

Austyn Gaffney reports on Oakland's universal basic mobility program, which “provided 500 restricted and prepaid debit cards, each containing up to $300, that participants could use to purchase trips on public transit, bikeshares, and e-scooters between November 2021 and November 2022.”

According to an evaluation of the program's pilot phase released by the Oakland Department of Transportation, “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.”

The article quotes OakDOT Transportation Planner Quinn Wallace: “In developing and designing our program, we knew we wanted to prioritize equity and not solely target individuals who own a car or who have consistent access to a car who would be the more traditional targets of a transportation demand management, or TDM, program.”

Wallace describes the lessons the department learned as it implemented the program and the proposals for extending the program into the future. When asked what advice the department would give other agencies, Wallace said, “My first piece of advice is to absolutely do it. I would love to see a universal basic mobility program in every region and every city across the country. This program is so much about not just shifting travel behavior and patterns, but also reducing financial barriers to accessing opportunities and providing relief and rewards to existing transit and shared-mobility users who already help cities and regions meet clean air goals, in addition to folks who want to shift to those more sustainable modes.”

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