Time dollars as alternative currency to address transportation scarcity within Detroit’s low-income communities

November 20, 2020

People living in poverty have limited access to financial resources that permits economic exchange. In turn, this limits formal economic participation. Prior research has shown that alternative, local currency systems, used alongside national currency systems (like USD), can enhance local economies by helping people experiencing poverty initiate or participate in economically productive activities. In the USA and in Detroit in particular, time dollars provide one such alternative currency. Timebanks are nonprofit organizations through which members earn “time dollars” for providing services to other members. In timebanks, every person’s time is worth the same amount, and a wide variety of services are exchanged. For example, a timebank member teaching another person to cook healthy meals that can then be shared.This project explores how one alternative currency: time dollars, and the exchanges surrounding them, can be used to help communities to solve challenges associated with resource scarcity. In this case, researchers will examine the scarce resource of non-emergency medical transportation within the city of Detroit. Researchers will examine a new system designed to improve healthcare access for underserved communities in Western Detroit. This project will result in designs of timebanking systems for transportation that incorporate skill development, trust and reciprocity. This will inform programs for poverty alleviation, and specifically, how alternate currencies can be expanded to better serve low-income populations and foster their economic participation while solving their transportation challenges.

Tiffany Veinot, U-M School of Information
Tawanna Dillahunt, U-M School of Information