Low-income North Carolinians need public transit

December 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm 2 comments

The Budget & Tax Center has released a new report today, which examines the impact of new transit investment on low-income populations. The report shows that, as the state invests more into public transit, it must make sure to reach low-income people, who are the most reliable users of public transit.

According to the report, 67 percent of workers in the state who commuted by public transit had incomes below $25,000 in 2011, and this share is increasing. Renters are also more likely to commute by public transit as well.  As the report states:

Expenses related to transportation and housing—such as the cost of a vehicle, insurance premiums, rent, and utilities—consume more than half of all household income, forcing many low- and moderate-income families to make tradeoffs  between these expenses and other expenses like food, child care, and health care. These expenses make affordable transportation options that much more important to households with less disposable income.

In addition, as housing becomes less affordable in the state’s urban area,  more lower-income families are forced to move further away from the urban cores. Job opportunities and public transit are both primarily located in the urban areas. This mismatch between affordable housing availability,  jobs, and transit makes using public transit more expensive and inaccessible for many lower-income people.

The report argues that new transit developments should both focus on where these workers live, and also incorporate investments in affordable housing near new transit stations. Without intentional and comprehensive planning, the new transit developments may not be able to reach their full capacity:

Research shows that new transit investments often lead to neighborhood change that thwarts the transit system’s ability to reach preferred levels of ridership. Neighborhoods near new transit stations tend to attract higher‐income and vehicle-owning residents who are less likely to use public transit compared to core transit users. Efforts to manage these externalities through comprehensive planning should be a leading priority among policymakers engaged in transit planning. Without early, coordinated planning, the spatial mismatch between transit, affordable housing, and jobs will likely continue to grow.

This is particularly important as we look at how the economic recovery has been uneven across the state. With growing income inequality, disparities in the unemployment rates among regions, and reduced economic mobility, some areas of the state will be left behind without conscientious planning that connects residents to economic opportunity.  Providing accessible and affordable public transit options will help to ease some of the barriers faced by low-income and rural/suburban populations in accessing jobs. In addition, transit-oriented affordable housing development will help to ensure that low-income residents are  not pushed out of their neighborhoods as a result of transit developments.

Investing in public transit is certainly an important goal for the state, particularly as the population continues to grow. Keeping in  mind accessibility for all North Carolinians–especially those who use and depend on public transit — will make these investments a success in the long-term.

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Entry filed under: Economic Development, Economy, Jobs & Employment, Transportation. Tags: , , , , .

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