Do Travel Costs Matter For Persons With Lower Incomes? Using Psychological and Social Equity Perspectives to Evaluate the Effects of a Low-Income Transit Fare Program on Low-Income Riders
This project was funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities(NITC; Grant number NITC-2016-PSU-34 and NITC-2016-PSU-43). One of seven U.S.Department of Transportation national university transportation centers, it is a programof the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland StateUniversity.This project was also funded by Portland State University’s Homelessness Research &Action Collaborative (HRAC).
Objective: Access to transit can deliver a host of benefits to the riders and to the region. Previous research aiming to study these benefits has primarily relied on data collected from the opening of new routes or transit systems and focused on the general population. Little is known how low-income riders (LIR) react and benefit in response to when the cost barrier to access to transit is removed. With an intention to increase ridership while addressing the needs of transit-dependent riders in the region, TriMet (Portland, OR) expanded the Honored Citizens Program (HCP) in July 2018 to include low-income riders (LIR).
Methods: In pre-test, post-test design, TriMet riders took two self-reported surveys, the first after recently enrolling or renewing their enrollment in HCP to examine changes in behavior, such as their usage in modes of transportation, especially public transit; as well as changes in ill-being; access to schooling- and employment-related opportunities; and perceptions of TriMet as an organization. Riders of other status (i.e., Non-LIRs) served as a comparison group. The final sample with matching surveys was 98 LIR and 20 others, for a total of 118 riders over the age of 18. Twenty LIR were also interviewed for supplementary qualitative data. Descriptive statistics, mixed ANOVA, repeated measures and two-sample t-tests were conducted.
Results: There was evidence for an interaction between groups and timepoints for frequency of public transit use such that NonLIR demonstrated a significant decrease in use across timepoints but LIR did not. LIR reported higher levels of walking, carpooling or ridesharing, and psychological ill-being than the Non-LIR groups. Non-LIR reported higher levels of sense of community than LIR.
Conclusion: The impact of COVID-19 during the data collection stage interfered with this project’s capacity to detect meaningful changes of rider experiences over time. Despite this, LIR reported no significant changes (i.e., constant usage) in public transit use, suggesting a larger dependency than non-LIR. Findings suggested the HCP positively adds to riders’ lives in various ways including professional and recreational opportunities and physical and mental health, which is most apparent from qualitative interviews.
McMahon, K., Taylor, M.R., Yang, L.-Q., Wang, L., Golub, A., Townley, G. Do travel costs matter for persons with lower incomes? Using psychological and social equity perspectives to evaluate the effects of a low-income transit fare program on low-income riders. NITC-SS-1360. Portland, OR: Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC), 2023. http://doi.org/10.15760/trec.288
This is a final report, NITC-SS-1360, from the NITC program of TREC at Portland State University, and may be found online at: https://nitc.trec.pdx.edu/research/project/1360.