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Is Mobility a Human Right? A look into the concept of Universal Basic Mobility

A few months ago, before the pandemic known as COVID-19 altered everything in our lives, I went to battle with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) over a ticket in court. What occurred is precisely what I am going to be talking about in my podcast / vlog tonight [insert shameless plug here], but it brought up a very real concept to me... why isn't public transit free? Is not the ability to be mobile a fundamental human right? This question was one that I didn't have an answer to; but decided to look into it further due to the fact that most of us have been working from home the last couple of months. Working from home has meant that the dreaded commute has been avoided, which turns out is one of the main benefits to #WFH.





Universal Basic Mobility (UBM)


The concept of UBM has been heavily inspired by the idea of Universal Basic Income as a way to help provide a solution to inequality in our society. I would say, however, only recently and - at least within Canada - the 2K a month CERB benefit has qualified as proof that we could have a policy where there is at least Universal Basic Income. I am not quite so sure a policy would be able to stand within a democratic and capitalist society; as well as I am not sure it's the best solution to inequality.


Mobility is not just the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. The freedom of movement is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, the freedom to movement has not been automatically associated with the right to mobility. For example: The government would build the roads, but you had to buy your own horse and buggy.





The Mobility Underclass


As cities have become more dense and overpopulated, there were roads and then cars, and buses, trains and subways. As a result, a type of informal pact exists between the government and it's people for the government to provide a more efficient way of transport.


Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every citizen of Ontario (I am just tagging this because I live in Toronto) has a right to equal treatment in receiving public services, which include public transit services. This does not include any verbiage around access to transportation. A growing number of the mobility underclass are falling into something called "structural immobility". This is a state where a lack of mobility prevents individuals from obtaining and keeping jobs, accessing basic services and contributing to society or maintain a reasonable quality of life. Basically, you need the TTC to get to your job but you can't afford the fare to get there; and in this situation would render something like Universal Basic Income a bit useless.


It is a very real reality that we have a right to movement but not an affordable means to move efficiently. I am currently having flashbacks to my 2 hour commute to work years ago at the beginning of my career.


Universal Basic Mobility


So what would Universal Basic Mobility even look like, and where would we start? Dr. Anna Newberry wrote a manifesto that would explain this much better than I could hope to articulate. She writes that "It is not my 'right to drive', but it is my 'right to have basic access to mobility' such that I can get to work, I can access healthcare, I can be part of society."


There is a very real reason why I am writing this, however. It is because, right now because of the lockdowns in response to the coronavirus... our access to mobility and movement has been restricted heavily. Remember that freedom is freedom, and the freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.


If we are to protect this freedom, then we must take care that the boundaries of that freedom must match those of mobility - for everyone.












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