Public transit fare structure and social vulnerability in Montreal, Canada

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, policy - equity, policy - fares, ridership - behaviour, ridership - disadvantage


Transit fares, Monthly fares, Weekly fares, Low-income, Equity


Research on social equity pertaining to transportation typically addresses how residents in a region have access to desirable destinations. Nonetheless, little is known about how public transit fare structures relate to social equity concerns. Some transit agencies charge more for fewer rides—weekly fares often cost more per ride than unlimited monthly fares, though monthly fares cost more upfront. For some social groups, in particular low-income earners, purchasing monthly passes may place a burden on their budget, and influence them to buy weekly passes instead. In this study, we analyze transit fare purchases of total monthly, weekly, and three or more weekly passes during the month of September 2014 in Montreal, Canada. We discovered that fare vendors in neighborhoods with low median household income and/or with a high proportion of unemployed residents are predicted to sell more weekly fares than vendors in neighborhoods with high household income and low rates of unemployment. Monthly fare purchases were not dependent on income or unemployed residents. Moreover, using smartcard data to track individual fare cards, we found that recurring purchases of three or more weekly passes depend on income and unemployment, so neighborhoods with socially vulnerable individuals are predicted to have more riders purchasing multiple weekly fares than socially secure neighborhoods. Our findings indicate that individuals residing in marginalized neighborhoods are likely to spend more money on transit fares over the course of a month compared to those residing in wealthy neighborhoods. These findings raise concerns regarding the financial burden that the existing fare structure in the city of Montreal imposes, especially on low-income groups. The methodology and findings from this study provide insight for transport planners, particularly those concerned with providing an equitable public transit system.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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