Low Income, Public Transit, and Mobility

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - frequency, planning - service quality, ridership - commuting, ridership - disadvantage, ridership - attitudes, mode - mass transit


Travel patterns, Transportation disadvantaged persons, Transit, Service quality, Service frequency, Reverse commuting, Quality of service, Public transit, Poverty, Poor people, Passenger service quality, Off peak periods, Mobility, Mental attitudes, Mass transit, Low income groups, Low income families, Local transit, Customer satisfaction, Attitudes


A fundamental justification for transit subsidies in the United States is to provide a basic level of mobility to all persons, especially the transportation disadvantaged: those who are either unwilling or unable to drive or who do not have access to a car. Yet even among the disadvantaged, most travel is by private vehicle. This paper examines the role of transit in the daily travel patterns of low-income households. Public transit is used for only a small portion of travel, and those who use transit regularly have the lowest level of mobility among all population segments. Attitudinal data indicate dissatisfaction with public transit, suggesting that current trends are likely to continue. Retaining existing markets by improving service frequency and quality in high-demand markets, exploring more effective ways of providing transit in low-demand markets, and expanding transit to serve off-peak and off-direction commutes would make transit a more attractive option for everyone.