Public Transit & Poverty

Public transit has long been touted as the way for the poor to get out of poverty by giving them a cheap way to get to work, but as New Geography points out, that is not the case, and offers a much better option, cars.

An excerpt.

Public transit systems intend to enhance local economies by linking people to their occupations. This presents problems for many  low-income families  dependent on transit for commuting. With rising prices at the gas pump, much hope has been placed on an influx of investment into public transit to help low-income households. But does public transit really help the poor? While the effect of transit access on job attainment is murky, several alternatives such as car loans and car-sharing programs have seen real results in closing the income gap. For Christina Hubbert, emancipation from public transit has been a change for the better. NBC News reports:

A car means Hubbert no longer spends two hours each way to and from work in suburban Atlanta. It means spending more time with her 3-year-old daughter — and no longer having to wake her up at 5 every morning so she can be in the office by 8. It also means saving hundreds of dollars each week in day care late fees she incurred when she couldn’t get to the center before its 6:30 p.m. closing time.

Research finds that car-ownership is positively correlated with job opportunities while no such relationship exists with access to transit stations. Furthermore, increased transit mobility has been proven to have no effect on employment outcomes for welfare recipients. The notion that newer and nearer public transit creates benefits for all is inaccurate; it only creates opportunities for those who live near the transit stations, and those opportunities are limited. A study by the Brookings Institute finds that, among the ten leading metropolitan areas in the US, less than 10% of jobs in a metropolitan area are within 45 minutes of travel by transit modes. Moreover, 36% of the entry-level jobs are completely inaccessible by public transit. This is not surprising given the fact that suburbia houses two-thirds of all new jobs.

The mismatch between people and jobs can be reconciled in two ways: car loans and car-sharing services. Basic car-sharing involves several people using the same car or a fleet of cars, as with the ZipCar. The concept has branched out to on-demand car sharing services, such as Lyft, mobile apps which link riders with drivers.

Car loans on the other hand have been around for a while and offer affordable financing for a car without a required down payment. Ways to Work, one of the largest loan providers in the U.S., includes courses on personal finance and credit counseling.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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