The idea of a Universal Basic Income has been tossed around for about the last decade. Now a transport strategist wants New Zealand to start talking about Universal Basic Mobility.
There’s been a resurgence in discussion over a Universal Basic Income with the advance in artificial intelligence raising the prospect of repetitive jobs becoming redundant. Finland introduced a trial last year. The New Zealand Treasury produced a paper on it in 2010; Labour commissioned a discussion paper on it in 2016 as an alternative to existing welfare benefits.
WSP Opus transport strategist Louise Baker says while that prospect remains controversial, some of the spin offs from the discussion include the idea translated to transport – where a minimum level of mobility is provided to all members of society. We are beginning to see it in the policies of a few local councils, but Baker believes now is the time to start a wider discussion on the issue, with the benefits to society becoming clearer.
Baker argues that lack of mobility limits a person’s ability to obtain and keep jobs, access basic services, contribute to society or maintain a reasonable quality of life.
Some councils are already making moves in that direction. Baker says Waikato councils are considering introducing free bus transport for people with disabilities. In Hawke’s Bay an initial free bus service provided when Hastings hospital closed has been expanded to include free transport for patients to cover all routes – and now includes their caregivers and under five year olds on services to Hawke’s Bay Hospital and at Napier Health. In Queenstown has rolled out $2 bus fares and expanded routes – partly to help shift workers get into town without adding to its congestion.
Baker says the NZ Transport Agency is on board as well, with its signing up to the Shared Mobility Principles for Liveable Cities document. It argues for equitable, inclusive and affordable mobility for all. It prioritises “people and interconnectivity” over vehicles. The agency has talked about such ideas as paying the mobile data for journey planning apps so that price isn’t a barrier for accessing transport information.
“But it hasn’t been discussed as a policy,” Baker says. “It’s being done as a series of actions in various places which look a bit like this.
“I want people to consider it so that when they’re planning transport projects it’s front of mind … jarring their thinking.” Instead of just looking at how to connect two places, for example, planners would ask how we solve people’s basic needs. Baker points out some of this is already government policy – providing access to work and social opportunities, and services. “It’s bigger than that. If you can’t afford to pay for your trip to hospital, you’re not going to go.”
In Auckland the obvious way to achieve this would be to tie it in with the AT Hop card, but Baker says she hasn’t done a deep dive into costs – “this is aspirational”. However she says if you look at the broader benefits of providing access on issues such as mental health there would be an argument to broadly fund it. “If somebody is isolated, that’s going to cost society, but if you can get them to social events or jobs, the benefits will outweigh the costs.”
Baker says in the widening gap between the rich and the poor we need to make sure we’re not designing a transport system for the elite.