Can transit investments in low-income neighbourhoods increase transit use? Exploring the nexus of income, car-ownership, and transit accessibility in Toronto

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, planning - environmental impact, planning - methods, planning - service improvement, ridership - growth, policy - equity, policy - environment


transit accessibility, transit use, equity, environmental planning


Transportation equity advocates recommend improving public transit in low-income neighbourhoods to alleviate socio-spatial inequalities and increase quality of life. However, transportation planners often overlook transit investments in neighbourhoods with “transit-captive” populations because they are assumed to result in less mode-shifting, congestion relief, and environmental benefits, compared to investments that aim to attract choice riders in wealthier communities. In North American cities, while many low-income households are already transit users, some also own and use private vehicles. It suggests that transit improvements in low-income communities could indeed result in more transit use and less car use. Accordingly, the main objective of this article is to explore the statistical relationship between transit use and transit accessibility as well as how this varies by household income and vehicle ownership in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Using stratified regression models, we find that low-income households with one or more cars per adult have the most elastic relationship between transit accessibility and transit use; they are more likely to be transit riders if transit improves. However, we confirm that in auto-centric areas with poor transit, the transit use of low-income households drops off sharply as car ownership increases. On the other hand, a sensitivity analysis suggests more opportunities for increasing transit ridership among car-deficit households when transit is improved. These findings indicate that improving transit in low-income inner suburbs, where most low-income car-owning households are living, would align social with environmental planning goals.


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


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