An innovative new pilot will give Pittsburgh residents free rides on all the shared transportation networks their city has to offer — and, perhaps for the first time in the history of “universal basic mobility pilots,” they will be able to access almost all of them on a single, simple platform.
Earlier this month, the City of Bridges announced it would partner with Pittsburgh Regional Transit, POGOH bikeshare and scooter company Spin to offer 50 low-income residents a full year of nearly unlimited free rides on all of these modes, plus monthly credits from the Zipcar car-sharing company. The entire program is funded with just $250,000 in grants from the Richard Mellon Foundation and Spin itself.
The concept, known in transport circles as Universal Basic Mobility (UBM), is not new, and cities like Bakersfield and Oakland, California. have already launched similar pilots. Spin points out, however, that Pennsylvania program is perhaps the first of its kind to allow participants to use nearly everything these services from a single app, thanks to the city’s first nationwide Mobility as a Service initiative, which was announced last year.
The company hopes this simple change will make it easier for users to compare how much time and energy it would take to use a car – and clarify when active transportation, like a scooter, might be a better choice. All participants in the pilot project must agree to make their travel data available to Carnegie Mellon researchers, as will a randomly selected control group of 50 Pittsburgh residents who will be paid for their time, but will not benefit from the travel package. all-inclusive mobility.
“We wanted to show how micromobility is an integral part of the urban transportation ecosystem,” said Kyle Rowe, senior vice president of partnerships and policy at Spin. “We think it can help people who have less access to resources, even for those who might have thought a personal car was the only way.”
The United States finally gets the first mobility-as-a-service platform
To help prove this, all pilot participants will face narrow income and demographic requirements — which is also why Pittsburgh calls its initiative a “guaranteed” basic mobility pilot rather than a “universal” pilot. All will be residents of the historically Black Manchester and Chateau districts, whose median incomes are 14% lower than the city as a whole; they will also need to demonstrate that they are receiving some form of government assistance, are actively seeking new employment, and do not have reliable access to a personal car at this time.
Rowe won’t speculate how those constraints might affect the outcome of the pilot, but the geo-restrictions alone will almost certainly have an impact. Both Manchester and Chateau have far fewer public transit connections than Pittsburgh’s central business district, and neither has a dedicated bike-sharing dock Where a Zipcar station within its borders, although there are a handful nearby. Even Spin, whose dockless scooters can be left in any legal parking space, may struggle to attract cyclists thanks to the scarcity of protected bike paths and the freeway directly connecting the two neighborhoods – and that is to say nothing of all the places participants might want to travel to.
Still, Rowe points out that even if all the pilot proves is that the poor Pittsburghers can not move as freely as their wealthier counterparts, that’s valuable data for the city.
“One thing I find that can be very problematic in transport policy idealism — and I’m certainly guilty of it myself — is that we tend to ask, ‘Why don’t you use more public transport? Why don’t you cycle more?” he added. “When the answer, oftentimes, is something that policy makers can’t easily understand because they don’t live in those communities, and they need to ask more questions.”
By almost completely leveling the playing field when it comes to cost, Rowe posits that the city can learn a lot about which modes residents naturally gravitate to and where they need to do more work to encourage mode switching. Pittsburgh has made it an explicit goal to reduce the kilometers traveled by vehicles 50% below 2013 levels, but Rowe says the new pilot deliberately won’t do much to push participants into green modes — at least until the next round, which the city hopes to take once the research will return to the impact of stress on their health, household finances and social life.
“The best solution is to give people lots of options, we can learn from what they do – [and then we can say,] “Maybe we need to change our prices, maybe we need to change our infrastructure,” Rowe said. “We can’t assume what anyone’s transportation challenges are… It’s really important to see what the trends are and then adapt from there.